Fresno County’s attempt to limit campaign contributions to two candidates for the Board of Supervisors was struck down in court on Friday.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Skiles ruled that the county’s prohibition on transfers from one campaign account to another is unconstitutional.
The backstory: Three years ago the Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that limited campaign contribution limits at $30,000 per election from a single source.
- The county contended that the $30,000 limit included intra-campaign transfers, such as moving money from a City Council campaign account to a Board of Supervisors campaign account.
- Fresno City Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez launched campaigns to run for the Board of Supervisors and indicated that they would move all of their campaign funds – both well over $30,000 – to their new accounts.
- Fresno County responded by suing both councilmembers to force compliance with the 2020 ordinance.
The big picture: Friday, Skiles made his ruling based on the difference between intra-campaign transfers and contributions.
- Skiles ruled that inttra-campaign transfers are not contributions and therefore not subject to Fresno County’s ordinance.
- Intra-campaign transfers, according to Skiles, are considered political speech and protected under the First Amendment.
- Skiles ruled that the ordinance was only unconstitutional regarding transfers, allowing the $30,000 contribution limit to remain in place.
- Skiles reviewed around 4,500 pages of evidence – around 4,000 of which were submitted by the county – to make his ruling.
What they’re saying: After the ruling, Bredefeld told The Sun that Friday was a complete victory, albeit an “absolute waste of taxpayer money” from the county.
- “This was a complete ‘incumbent protection scheme’,” Bredefeld said. “We’ve seen it before. They wasted taxpayer money. They forced me to use money that I should be using to communicate with constituents to hire an attorney to defeat them. It’s frankly a complete disgrace by the entire Board of Supervisors, and change, accountability and transparency are coming Election Day on March 5.”
- Bredefeld said he’ll have to wait and see if the county will be forced to cough up attorneys’ fees.
- “I also want to thank the judge who obviously spent hour upon hour looking at all of this and making what was a very thoughtful, insightful decision in ruling this unconstitutional,” which was evident from the beginning,” Bredefeld said. “This was clearly unconstitutional. We have the right of freedom of speech, and we never were going to exceed a $30,000 limit – and transfer of funds is not one donation. It was a multitude of donations that never exceeded $30,000. This was a complete waste of taxpayer money and a misuse of taxpayer money, and the Board of Supervisors should once again be ashamed of themselves for this action.”
- Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez, in a statement, echoed Bredefeld’s sentiments.
- “I am grateful for Judge Skiles’ ruling on this irresponsible lawsuit against myself and Councilman Bredefeld. It is a dangerous precedent when government officials use their power and position and taxpayer dollars to weaponize the county’s legal department for blatant political purposes,” Chavez said. “As long expected, the judge has clearly drawn a line to ensure that candidates of all stripes have their constitutional rights protected.”
- “Sadly, this suit was a political vendetta waged by the Board of Supervisors at its political opponents. The biggest loser today isn’t Sal Quintero, but you – the taxpayer – who had to pay for the legal expenses,” Chavez said. “Politicians shouldn’t play by the old rule of do as I say, not as I do. I look forward to a vigorous campaign this fall and winter and victory in March! Change is coming. Today was a win for democracy our constitution and the First Amendment.”
- City Attorney Andrew Janz submitted a brief to the court last week warning that the city’s campaign finance laws would be significantly impacted if the county’s intra-campaign transfer limit was allowed to stand.
- “Although the Court did not rely on our brief in reaching its ruling, the Court’s oral decision was nearly identical to our position in our moving papers,” Janz said. “It was clear from the very beginning that the County’s position violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”