A Fresno County Superior Court judge denied a motion from two Fresno supervisorial candidates to toss out a county lawsuit over campaign fund caps.
But Judge Jonathan Skiles expressed doubts that Fresno County would eventually prevail.
That means Freno County’s lawsuit to interpret a $30,000 limit on campaign transfers continues in July.
“I don’t understand the compelling government interest,” Skiles said. He said the county will have a “heavy lift.”
The move affects two Fresno City councilmen running for supervisor: Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez.
Bredefeld is running for the District 2 seat — covering much of north Fresno and part of Clovis — against incumbent Steve Brandau.
Chavez is running for the District 3 seat — covering much of south Fresno and surrounding communities — against incumbent Sal Quintero, fellow Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias, and educator EJ Hinojosa.
“It’s like the county saying do as we say, not as we do. And I think the judge highlighted on that, and I think that’s very encouraging for us,” Chavez told the media after the hearing.
Bredefeld held a fundraiser last week. Chavez says he has a fundraiser planned for next week.
Fight to Transfer Funds
Responding to new state mandates, the Board of Supervisors established a maximum contribution of $30,000 in 2020. This year is the first test of how the county should handle transfers from a candidate’s outside campaign account into the supervisorial race.
After Bredefeld and Chavez announced they were running earlier this year, the county interpreted its ordinance to mean that the $30,000 cap applied to transfers. However, it would not apply to existing supervisor accounts switching to a new election. Critics contend the county’s interpretation is intended to protect incumbents.
Bredefeld reports having $228,000 in his campaign account and Chavez has $110,000. Brandau reported $173,619 cash on hand, and Quintero had $75,000 through the end of 2022.
By the county’s rules, Bredefeld and Chavez would only be able to transfer $30,000. Brandau and Quintero would not be under the same restrictions.
Bredefeld and Chavez said they have already transferred their funds despite the county interpretation.
Arias would not be affected, as he had less than $30,000 in his city council account — transferring nearly $21,000 into a supervisor account last month.
Bredefeld, speaking with the media used a phrase he’s often used to describe the county’s lawsuit, “an Incumbent Protection Scheme.”
“It’s completely unfair. And frankly, it’s a corrupt process by the Board of Supervisors,” Bredefeld said.
The county sued Bredefeld and Chavez. The county is asking a judge for injunctive relief, meaning the judge would interpret the legality of the county’s interpretation.
Bredefeld and Chavez countered with an anti-SLAPP motion, a legal maneuver challenging the county’s action on free speech grounds. In documents, the attorney representing both candidates said the county’s transfer rules were unconstitutional.
Judge Skiles did not agree that the candidates’ free speech was in jeopardy in this instance.
If Bredefeld and Chavez prevailed on the anti-SLAPP motion, the county would be liable for attorney’s fees. Chavez said they are splitting legal costs 50/50.
Also attending the proceeding as observers — Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz, and Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos — who is flirting with running in the District 2 supervisor race.