The congressional battle between Howard Berman and Brad Sherman was never all that substantive to begin with — they agree on most things — but lately it's taken a turn for the trivial. Last week, Berman slammed Sherman for pocketing $460,000 in interest payments on loans he made to his campaign.

Sherman is slamming back, accusing Berman of using his taxpayer-funded SUV for personal business — including attending a fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton last November. The Sherman camp has been passing around this photo of Berman arriving at the event in his government-leased Ford Escape hybrid.

“Notice the surprised look on his face when he realizes he's being photographed,” says John Schwada, Sherman's spokesman. “Priceless.”

Berman raised $1.6 million at the gala fundraiser, which was attended by Gov. Jerry Brown and former Gov. Gray Davis. (With all that cash coming in, it does seem like he could have sprung for a cab.)

In response to Sherman's charges, the Berman campaign today admitted the oversight and said that Berman had reimbursed the Treasury for the cost of the mileage, in the amount of $9.50.

But Sherman is not letting it drop there. His campaign contends that in 2011, Berman had no other vehicle in L.A. aside from the SUV. That would mean that this fundraiser was not an isolated oversight, and in fact Berman was routinely driving the SUV for personal and political trips.

“I think what really matters here is did he have a personal vehicle in 2011,” Sherman said, in all apparent seriousness. “If not, then everywhere he went was in his government car.”

In addition to the Escape, Berman has a personal car in Washington and his wife has a car in L.A. Berman's campaign began leasing a fourth car in L.A. for political purposes in January 2012.

That's why Sherman is focused on 2011 and before. In fact, Sherman has been harping on this for quite a while. At a debate in March, Sherman asked Berman which car he drove in L.A. for personal trips back in 2010-11.

Berman didn't exactly give an answer, but told Sherman that the question “shows the simplicity of your mindset.”

In a statement to the Weekly, Berman's campaign manager, Brandon Hall, noted that Berman “was voted one of the most ethical members of Congress.”

“Brad, on the other hand, has taxpayers reimburse his staff to drive him to and from events,” Hall said. “The Sherman campaign is really grasping at straws after it was revealed last week that Brad Sherman has personally pocketed $460,000 from his campaign account.”

On the latter charge, the Jewish Journal crunched the numbers and found that Sherman was paying himself a 5.4% interest rate. The reporter concluded that Berman's attack was “unconvincing” and “deceptive.”

As to the other charge, Schwada says  Sherman does not lease a government car, but that he does indeed have his staff drive him to and from the D.C. airport. (Perhaps congressional staffers' lives will improve marginally when they open that rail line to Dulles.) When he's in L.A., Sherman says he drives around in his own Chevy Malibu.

“It's the only hybrid manufactured in America,” Sherman boasts. “If you've seen me in L.A., this is the car you've seen me in.”

Glad that's settled.

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