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Media Coverage
Firefighters Open Books To Scrutiny
December 20, 1997



Saturday, December 20, 1997
Section: News
Page: A01
Scott Andrews 

RICHMOND The embattled city firefighters union has opened its financial records to the Times in an attempt to allay suspicion that it accepted illegal contributions to its influential political action committees. 

But many of the banking and internal documents that would show the source of donations to the International Association of Firefighters Local 188 were missing from union offices Friday. 

Leaders of the 99-member bargaining unit were unable to prove the source of $14,955 in questionable donations, leaving unresolved the suspicions of political opponents that the union accepted illegal donations. The Fair Political Practices Commission, a state watchdog agency, is investigating the donations. 

The paperwork released does, however, give some support to the firefighters' contention that the money was legitimate income from a firefighter-sponsored circus. 

The union requested missing bank records Friday that could give a more complete picture of its practices. It pledged to release them to the Times. 

One of the union's chief political opponents met its release of documents with skepticism. Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt said he believes the donations are part of a union history of accepting questionable contributions. 

The union has played a major role in city and school district politics for years, pouring thousands of dollars into campaigns and last-minute negative advertising. Controversy has also clung to the union's consultant and former president, Darrell Reese, for his roles as lobbyist, union leader and campaign manager. 

The union reported in October that 95 retired firefighters contributed $14,955 to its main political action committee, which influenced Richmond City Council and West Contra Costa school district elections this year. 

But Reese said Wednesday that the retirees never gave a cent. 

Butt has asked the state FPPC to investigate whether the incorrect reports broke state law. The union has rewritten the campaign finance report to delete references to retiree contributions. 

Reese defended the initial report. He said the FPPC told the union that using the retirees' names was the correct way to account for political income from the annual circus without violating state campaign contribution limits of $250 per person. 

He said the union will be able to account for all the money it received by showing that about $16,000 came from people who purchased tickets to the circus. 

The union keeps many of its records stacked haphazardly in a filing cabinet in a cluttered room in an El Sobrante firehouse. On Friday, as union President Henry Hornsby searched for documents, he could not find many. 

Bank statements, canceled checks, deposit slips and internal records showing weekly circus revenues apparently had been misplaced. 

State figures on the circus's revenues will not be available until next year. 

Internal documents provided by the union Friday show weekly revenues from the circus for about 11 weeks. Several weeks' records are missing. But a report from the final week of the circus apparently shows the firefighters were due $15,698.11. 

That might justify Reese's contention that the $14,955 in questionable contributions came from the circus. But the union was unable to produce bank documents showing that money from the circus was deposited into any of its accounts.