Nelson Esparza, accused of improperly transferring money from a school board campaign committee to a Fresno City Council campaign committee earlier this year, is paying a $500 penalty to the city and must repay the questionable transfer.
Esparza is a member of the Fresno County Board of Education who has declared his intention to run next year for the council’s District 7 seat now held by Councilman Clint Olivier. Olivier is wrapping up his second four-year term and faces term limits. A settlement finalized in October between Esparza and the city requires Esparza to return all of the money transferred from the school board campaign fund to his City Council campaign committee – a total of almost $5,000 – before June 1, 2018.
Fresno’s city charter forbids council candidates from raising money or transferring money from other campaign committees before the formal filing period opens for an election – in this instance, in February 2018, according to Fresno City Attorney Douglas Sloan.
The settlement also bars Esparza from using any physical campaign materials, such as campaign flyers or other printed material paid for with the transferred contributions until all of the money has been repaid to the school board campaign account. He is allowed to use electronic media or images, including social media or websites, after making a $500 initial repayment to the school board account and paying the $500 fine to the city.
Esparza’s campaign came under scrutiny after a letter was sent to the California Fair Political Practices Commission claiming that he collected money for a school board campaign at a fundraiser in April and then, a month later, transferred some of that money to the council campaign account.
A finance statement filed in July by campaign treasurer Don Milligan and Esparza on behalf of Esparza for Fresno City Council 2018 shows that much of the $4,950 that was transferred from Esparza’s school board campaign was originally made in late 2015 or early 2016, more than a year before the suspect transfer. Of the 55 contributions listed, most came from out-of-town donors; only eight contributions totaling $517 were from Fresno residents, including a $200 contribution from Esparza himself. Esparza also made a $2,000 loan to his city council campaign committee.
In September, Esparza’s team said they believed the transfer was allowed by the city’s rules according to a memo from the city. But Sloan said it is illegal to transfer cash from any campaign account into a Fresno city campaign account before February or to spend any of that money.
The settlement specifies that Esparza does not admit to violating the city charter or municipal code, or any other law by him or anyone connected with his campaign.