Political Notebook

Fresno mayoral hopefuls take stock of campaign cash

Community leader H. Spees
Community leader H. Spees

There’s no doubt about it: right now Lee Brand is king of the hill when it comes to campaign funds for the coming Fresno mayor’s race. Thanks to a $100,000 loan he made to his campaign, combined with a huge amount of cash moved over from his Fresno City Council account, Brand has more than $240,000 cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

Using that same measuring stick, community leader H. Spees is at the other end. He’s loaned his campaign $6,500, and has spent $7,400. That means that, as of Dec. 31, his campaign was more than $900 in debt.

It’s actually not the fairest comparison, because Fresno’s mayoral candidates can’t legally start raising money until Feb. 15. So a guy like Spees, who isn’t already in elected office, can only loan himself money (up to a maximum of $100,000) at this point while Brand can do that, too, and has the added edge of tapping an existing council war chest that he has built up over the years.

Which brings up the mayoral race’s newest viable candidate – Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, who announced a week ago that he would run.

Between July 1 and Dec. 31 of last year, Perea picked up his county supervisor campaign fundraising pace. He raised $66,000 during that time, and now has $87,000 in his campaign coffers.

The question is, can Perea use that money for the mayoral race?

There are no contribution restrictions for county office, but Fresno’s rules mirror the state, which limits contributions to $4,200 per election. All of Perea’s contributions, however, were below that limit, so on that basis he almost certainly could transfer the money to a mayoral account.

Another question is when Perea raised the money. It is outside of the Feb. 15 start date for Fresno mayoral hopefuls. So can he move that money? An even bigger question is do those contributions count against the $4,200 limit for Fresno mayor?

Doug Sloan, Fresno’s city attorney, is currently researching those legal questions, as the campaigns of Brand and Spees probably are as well.

Sloan said if Perea was legitimately running for reelection to his county supervisor seat, and raising money for that run, but has now changed to running for mayor, “I doubt there’s much we can do” to stop him from moving the money into a new mayoral account.

If that is indeed the case, then Spees will be starting the race at a big money disadvantage to both Brand and Perea.

There’s just 114 days after Feb. 15 for the mayoral hopefuls to raise money, put together campaigns and get their message to the voters. It takes money to do all of that.

Even bigger is the question of whether Perea can go back to his supervisor race donors from last year and have them give additional money to his mayoral campaign that may put them above the $4,200 total.

For instance, Mid Valley Disposal contributed $4,000 to Perea’s supervisor campaign last year. Can they now turn around and give $4,200 more to his mayoral campaign?

Brand raised his leftover campaign money years ago as a council candidate, and will no doubt be able to go back to those same donors for his mayoral run. The difference for Perea is that he received his contributions recently, just over the past seven months. The fact that he recently raised the money could be factor, Sloan said.

The candidates, Sloan said, should probably expect a memo from him soon on some of these important finance issues.

Finally, there is Perea’s son, former Assembly Member Henry T. Perea.

He lost the 2008 mayor’s race to current Mayor Ashley Swearengin, but the younger Perea – who resigned a year before his term limit to take a private-sector job – may yet play a role in this year’s contest.

The reason is his his campaign accounts are still flush with cash, and local political watchers are wondering whether he will use some of it to fund an independent expenditure on behalf of his father.

As of Dec. 31, Perea had around $880,000 sitting in two state accounts.

There may be legal issues at play here as well, though the only one that is easy to agree on is that the two Pereas cannot coordinate anything on an independent effort.

Fresno Mayoral Fundraising

As of Dec. 31, 2015

Lee Brand

Loaned himself $100,000. Combined with cash already in his account, has $243,275 cash on hand

Henry R. Perea

Raised $66,363 between July 1 and Dec. 31 of last year; has $87,309 in his Fresno County supervisor account

H. Spees

Loaned his campaign $6,500; spent $7,460. Campaign debt: $960