It’s Political Fundraising Time. Who Will Enforce New ‘Anti-Pay-to-Play’ Law?
Several Fresno elected leaders started fundraising for the 2024 election. For now, they must self-police to make sure they comply with a new campaign finance law, Senate Bill 1439. But it may take research from journalists and political opponents to discover potential violations.
The new law, which took effect Jan. 1, limits contributions from those with business in front of local government on certain issues — such as permits or licenses — to $250 per year. If the amount exceeds the limit, the elected member either has to return the money or recuse themself from the vote.
Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld held his first fundraiser for Fresno County Supervisor last week. When it comes to SB 1439, he said “of course, I will comply.”
The bill’s author is state Sen. Steven Glazer, D-Orinda. He warns candidates that not adhering to the law could invalidate whatever bill they vote on at a later date.
Several business groups filed a lawsuit challenging the law. It will next be heard in Sacramento County Superior Court on May 25.
Some critics have noted that the law doesn’t apply to union contributions. Others contend that it will shift contributions into dark-money PACs and independent expenditure campaigns.
Related Story: $250 Local Campaign Donation Cap Challenged in Court
Also on Politics 101 …
- Who has fundraisers scheduled?
- Who is supposed to enforce SB 1439?
- Kashian’s and Assemi’s contributions
Others Have Fundraisers Scheduled
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and Councilmen Miguel Arias and Luis Chavez have fundraisers coming up.
Arias and Chavez are running for District 3 supervisor against incumbent Sal Quintero.
Quintero said he’s collected some checks in 2023, but nothing that would trigger SB 1439 provisions.
“I’m being careful about that,” Quintero said.
Steve Brandau — the District 2 supervisor being challenged by Bredefeld — did not respond to inquiries on his fundraising.
Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza is running for the state Board of Equalization in 2026. He listed one contribution this year, $9,000 from Gray for Assembly 2022 — even though Adam Gray actually ran for Congress and lost in 2022.
It is unlikely Gray would have business in front of the city council that would require Esparza to recuse himself.
Who is Supposed to Enforce?
Who is supposed to enforce SB 1439 compliance to make sure votes are legal?
“There are a lot of people unhappy that the pay-to-play spigot has been turned off.” — state Sen. Steven Glazer
Not the Fresno city attorney.
“The City Attorney’s Office does not enforce state campaign finance laws. That would make no sense and doing so would create significant conflicts of interest since we represent the city and report to the council,” City Attorney Andrew Janz said.
Janz, Glazer, and several others said the Fair Political Practices Commission is responsible for enforcement.
“As with most laws, it’s up to every individual to comply,” FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said. “SB 1439 is like any other aspect (statute or regulation) of the (Political Reform) Act, the FPPC Enforcement Division or any District Attorney or the Attorney General can investigate and prosecute the law under the Act. Again, our jurisdiction is administrative and civil law, a DA or the AG handles criminal law.”
Related Story: Expect Surge of ‘Dark Money’ in Local Politics Thanks to New CA Law
The FPPC has requested three more positions in the upcoming state budget.
“Our analysis showed that, basically, with an expansion of those covered by the law we’d get an increase in advice requests from public officials, that we’d likely get more complaints filed on alleged violations, and we’d need to shore up some education outreach to inform public officials,” Wierenga said.
Wierenga said the FPPC received three SB 1439-related complaints this year. The status of those complaints is unknown at this time.
Researching violations means pouring through campaign finance records and matching them up with votes taken. If a city attorney or district attorney won’t proactively check, political opponents and journalists will.
The next campaign finance reporting deadline is July 31. It becomes more frequent as the election — March 5, 2024 — approaches.
Glazer said the feedback he’s received indicates the law is working.
“There are a lot of people unhappy that the pay-to-play spigot has been turned off,” Glazer said.
FPPC Sends Reminder Letter to City, County Attorneys
Last week, the FPPC sent a letter to all city attorney and county counsels about SB 1439.
“The FPPC a duty to interpret and enforce all the provisions of the Political Reform Act — including the amendments made by SB 1439 — unless and until directed otherwise by court order,” FPPC chairman Richard Miadich wrote.
Kashian Contributed to Five Councilmembers
Last week, the council agreed to pay $2.7 million to connect a Lance-Kashian and Company project to a private water system. The move will allow Kashian-built Brandhaven — an affordable senior home complex in the Fancher Creek Town Center in southeast Fresno — to apply for an occupancy permit and move in residents.
Related Story: Council Bends Its Rules to Bail Big Fresno Developer Out With $2.7 Million
Chavez, who authored the resolution, said it was about getting affordable housing on track.
Campaign finance records show that Lance-Kashian, or its related company Kashian Enterprises, contributed to four councilmembers in their current or most recent campaign cycle — Annalisa Perea, Tyler Maxwell, Chavez, and Nelson Esparza. A fifth, Miguel Arias, received a Lance-Kashian contribution for his 2018 city council run.
This is not to imply any illegal votes took place. Most entities, prior to 2023, could legally contribute to a person running for office — subject to certain limits.
For comparison, Granville Homes — whose CEO/President Darius Assemi is GV Wire’s publisher — or one of its employees contributed to all seven councilmembers in their current or most recent runs.