OAKLAND -- Councilwoman Desley Brooks has ignored campaign disclosure law for years, records show, making it impossible to know exactly what she has done with thousands of dollars in campaign donations and public matching funds.
Brooks was fined $400 last month for failing to submit her 2011 campaign contribution disclosure reports -- her second campaign disclosure-related fine since winning office in 2002.
But a review of her filings with the City Clerk's Office shows numerous violations for which city and state officials have never held her accountable.
By far Brooks' most alarming recurring issue is that her campaign figures simply don't add up. Eight times since 2002 her campaign fund's ending cash balance for one reporting period was different from the beginning cash balance for the following period.
The city initially tried to make Brooks fix her mistakes, but as her violations continued, both city and state watchdog agencies chose to ignore the transgressions, even though she received $12,769 in public campaign matching funds. Though there is no evidence that Brooks has pocketed campaign contributions, the multitude of errors, including bad math, dating back 10 years makes it impossible to get a reliable accounting of Brooks' funds, said Mari Lee, a campaign treasurer whose clients include three Oakland council members.
"These filings are an absolute travesty," Lee said after inspecting them at this paper's request. "Without an audit being done there's no way of knowing how much money she raised and how much she spent."
History of violations
Brooks, who didn't return phone calls and refused requests to go over her filings in person, said in an email that she was unaware of both the accounting errors and her failure to file required reports.
The City Clerk's Office this year ordered her to correct her error-laden 2010 filings after this paper informed the office of the violations. But Brooks wrote that she couldn't comply because the information about her contributors was stored on her computer, which had been stolen.
State campaign finance law requires candidates to disclose the names, addresses, occupations and employers of contributors who give more than $100 and to file semiannual reports during nonelection years -- obligations that Brooks, an attorney, has often ignored since first running for office in 2002.
In 2004, Oakland's Public Ethics Commission fined her $250 for failing to provide required background information for 37 contributors to her successful 2002 council bid.
That same year the commission forwarded its concerns about Brooks' campaign records to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. The commission declined to investigate, citing limited staff resources, said Gary Winuk, chief of the commission's enforcement division.
Brooks continued violating campaign rules after she was fined, but faced no additional penalty until last month, when the state commission, acting on an anonymous tip, fined her $400 for failing to submit the two semiannual disclosure reports for 2011.
Winuk said the commission hadn't been alerted that other filings also were missing or that the filings on record were full of mistakes. "Now that we know," he said, "we're going to follow up on it."
Brooks' frequent accounting discrepancies began in 2002 when she recorded a negative campaign balance of $11,768 for the filing period ending June 30. Yet that deficit was somehow wiped clean and she began the next filing period beginning July 1 with a balance of zero.
In 2008, the only campaign statement she filed showed an ending balance of $1,675. But her following statement, which wasn't filed until 2010, showed a beginning balance of $4,000.
When Brooks last month filed her campaign statement for the first half of 2012, the beginning balance was $1,353 less than the ending balance for her previous filing.
Records show that in 2005 Brooks made her sister, Darleen Brooks, her campaign treasurer at which point her disclosure errors became both more numerous and bizarre.
In a 2007 statement, Brooks listed $40,126 in contributions and $41,149 in payments for the year, but never detailed a single contribution or payment as required.
Facing re-election in 2010, Brooks was required to disclose her campaign contributions and expenditures at the end of June and September. She skipped both those deadlines and created her own filing period: Jan. 1 through Oct. 5.
That filing lacked required information for many contributors, including their employers and occupations.
In four cases, Brooks listed at least the contributor's address and donation, but neglected to include the contributor's name.
The filing also included a major math error, which caused her ending balance for the period to be undervalued by $4,000. The incorrect figure was carried over into her next campaign disclosure report, rendering it incorrect, as well.
"It doesn't appear the city has the will to enforce the law," said Bob Stearn, an attorney who helped write the state's campaign disclosure rules. "If nobody is telling her that her statements are terrible, she's going to continue doing this."
Assistant city clerk Tamika Thomas said state regulations require her office to accept campaign filings "regardless of their conditions" and that the clerk's office lacked both the authority to initiate investigations and the staffing to closely inspect the filings.
Thomas said it's up to the city's Public Ethics Commission to investigate campaign law violations. But the commission didn't meet at all for nine months after its director retired last year.
"There doesn't appear to be anyone right now capable of providing oversight," said Ralph Kanz, who served on the commission when it fined Brooks in 2004. "Because the ethics commission has been so understaffed and not provided the resources it needs, it's been unable to keep up with these things."
Although city clerks aren't required to inspect campaign filings, Winuk said many of them file complaints with the state after candidates fail to correct errors.
"We get them all the time," he said.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.
2006: July 1 to Dec. 31
2007: Jan. 1 to June 30
2008: July 31 to Dec. 31
2009: Jan. 1 to June 30; July 1 to Dec. 31
2011: July 1 to Dec. 31
Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks' 2010 campaign filing
Beginning balance: $4,000
Cash receipts: $32,113
Cash payments: $11,000
Ending cash balance $21,113
The actual ending balance should have been $25,113.