​Two would-be challengers eyeing Board of Supervisor seats say they’re going to ignore a recent legal statement from Fresno County because they say it was intended to protect the incumbents. (Bee file photos)

What's at stake?

The 2024 Fresno County Board of Supervisors race is heating up. Two challengers who say they’ll openly defy a county campaign contribution rule could face litigation.

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors is entertaining legal action against Fresno politicians who say they’ll openly defy a county campaign contribution rule.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor meeting, a majority of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted during closed session to initiate “declaratory relief action” against supervisorial candidates Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez to clarify the interpretation and application of the Fresno County Campaign Contribution Ordinance.

A petition for declaratory relief is a legal process to obtain a judicial declaration on the rights and duties of the parties under a contract used to settle controversies before they escalate further, according to the legal site Trellis.

Bredefeld, who represents City Council District 6 in northeast Fresno, is running against incumbent Supervisor Steve Brandau to represent Supervisor District 2, which includes part of Clovis and northwest Fresno.

Chavez, who represents City Council District 5 in south Fresno, is running against his former boss, Supervisor Sal Quintero, who represents Supervisor District 3, which encompasses central and southeast Fresno as well as the unincorporated community of Calwa.

In mid-February, both Chavez and Bredefeld said they’d ignore a 2020 Fresno County campaign ordinance that limits how much money they can transfer from their council campaign accounts to their supervisor campaign accounts, saying that the county’s rule unfairly protects incumbents.

The Fresno County campaign contribution ordinance says the candidates can only transfer $30,000 each. Cities and counties were allowed to set their own campaign contribution limits before a 2019 state law, which took effect in 2021, set default campaign contribution limits for city and county candidates at $4,900 per election.

But both Chavez and Bredefeld told The Bee/Fresnoland they’d move forward with transferring their council accounts to their supervisors accounts, for a total of $110,000 and $223,000, respectively.

Brandau and Quintero recused themselves from both the discussion and vote, according to the closed session update. The other supervisors — Nathan Magsig, Buddy Mendes and Brian Pacheco — all voted yes.

“The County is confident that the outcome of this proceeding will confirm its position,” Fresno County Administrative Officer Paul Nerland said in a statement Tuesday.

Fresno County statement on local campaign contribution limits.

Challengers react to county decision

In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Chavez said he was “disappointed” that the county is considering legal action with taxpayer dollars.

“Everything that’s happening right now is the own doing of the county because they were not specific enough” regarding contribution transfers, he said. Chavez said he used legal opinion from the city attorney based on the Fair Political Practices Commission and state law.

But according to the county’s statement — which was issued following The Bee/Fresnoland’s request for clarification from Fresno County spokesperson Sonja Dosti on the closed session update — the FPPC regulations “apparently being relied upon by the prospective candidates” don’t apply to Fresno County, since the county already had its own campaign contribution limit in place.

The FPPC “has no authority to assist with any questions regarding the applicability of local restrictions,” according to the statement. Nerland also attached a 2021 FPPC opinion letter for reference.

Chavez said it’s “concerning” that these campaign ordinance rules apply to some people, but not incumbent supervisors when they transfer money from one committee to another, such as from a 2020 race to a 2024 race.

“If they’re gonna sue me,” he said, “they should be ready to sue Supervisor Quintero, as well.”

Quintero couldn’t be reached for response, but previously said he we would follow whatever guidance the county counsel provides about transferring campaign finances between accounts.

The Fresno County campaign contribution ordinance language says the ordinance applies to “county elected officers, candidates for county officers, their controlled committees and committees formed or existing primarily to support or oppose candidates for county offices.”

Bredefeld said in an email statement, “I’m not surprised that the Board of Supervisors are wasting taxpayer money to defend their unconstitutional ordinance which is nothing more than an Incumbent Protection Scheme. We are following all state laws and are transferring individual contributions that meet contribution limits in their own ordinance.”

“This is a callous effort to protect one of their own but it won’t work,” Bredefeld said.

Brandau couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

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