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Did Allan Bernstein Violate Campaign Laws?

Council Candidate Bernstein Illegally Poses as CouncilmemberA few days ago, we wrote a short summary on the five candidates running for Tustin City Council. On one of the candidates, Allan Bernstein, we alluded to a possible violation of campaign laws, particularly if he were to continue to use a photo of him sitting on the city council dais with the City of Tustin Seal in full view.

No sooner had we published that article than we received an email invitation from Allan asking us to join him for a campaign fundraiser at Quinn’s Old Town Grill. Accompanying the “personal” invitation was a flyer for the event and a campaign pamphlet stating Bernstein’s qualifications for his candidacy.

As we said previously, Bernstein has few, if any qualifications for running for Tustin City Council. He has no civic experience and has, to our knowledge, never run for public office, been appointed to a commission or sat on a public board. His community service is equal to his civic service.

His pamphlet does list his “plan” for Tustin. It is pretty ambiguous but reads like the stock Republican party. He plans to ensure a balanced budget (this is a law and a no brainer, cities can’t run a deficit). He also plans to address the public employee retirement obligation. You know, the same one that was recently dealt with by the sitting council in successful union negotiations that resulted in higher employee contributions and changes to retirement age and formulas. So, it is hard to see how he would deal further with the pension unless he plans to resort to such cutting edge ideas as 401(k) type plans for public employees.

The pamphlet concludes with a short list of endorsements, mostly Amante cronies and well-known Republican politicians at the county level.

But, that photo of Bernstein sits right on the front page of the pamphlet. It shows him clearly sitting on the city council dais with the Tustin City Seal above his head like some kind of halo. We were pretty sure the use of the official city seal in campaign material is a no-no so we checked around. The Tustin City Code does address the use of the seal but only in the context that the City Clerk is the official “keeper of the seal” and it is to be used on all official city documents. The use of the city logo is another matter. The code states  specifically the logo may not be used in campaign materials or to promote business or any other purpose unless permission has been given (it is interesting to note that Amante signed this ordinance into law and he appears to be the one advising Bernstein). Are we out of luck?

Not at all.

One only has to look at California Law to find the answer. Section 18304 of the Election Code states:

(a) Any person who uses or allows to be used any reproduction or facsimile of the seal of the county or the seal of a local government agency in any campaign literature or mass mailing, as defined in Section 82041.5 of the Government Code, with the intent to deceive voters, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

We would have to believe this campaign pamphlet was emailed to more than 200 “invitees’ and others Bernstein deemed worthy of receiving them and, so, it comes under this section. Emailing nowadays has the same effect as postal mailing only it can be done faster and cheaper, with the potential for wider dissemination.

So, where does this leave us? Clearly, Bernstein, with no prior political experience, sought to misdirect his readers into believing that he has public experience and that he may even currently be involved in city government, none of which is true. If we take the Elections Code at its face value, the only conclusion is that Bernstein has violated campaign law with his very first mailing.

We believe this is such an egregious transgression of the law that we have notified the Orange County District Attorney’s Office of the violation. We are currently awaiting an answer from their investigative unit and will keep you informed.