Lobbyist and Santa Ana City Council candidate Jose Solorio has agreed to pay a $3,500 fine for illegally using campaign money on rent for the apartment he’s been living in.
The fine, which was announced Friday, came after an investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) into the arrangement, which was first revealed by Voice of OC and led to a complaint from one of Solorio’s opponents.
State investigators ultimately determined that Solorio, who is running for the Ward 3 council seat, broke state law because he used campaign funds on an apartment he was renting for personal use.
“On three different occasions, Solorio used campaign funds totaling approximately $2,866 to pay part of the rent for the months of August, September, and October 2016 for an apartment where he maintains that he lived and worked on his campaign,” the FPPC wrote in its stipulation of facts.
“By using campaign funds in this way, Solorio received a substantial personal benefit for expenditures that were unrelated to a political, legislative, or governmental purpose.”
FPPC fines typically can be paid out of campaign funds. But because Solorio’s violation was for personal use of campaign money, he has to pay his fine from a source other than campaign funds.
His fine was included in the agenda for the next FPPC meeting on Nov. 17, where it’s up for final approval. An FPPC spokesman said agenda items are only posted after the settlement is signed and a check for the fine is provided.
Solorio moved in July from his family’s home in Santa Ana’s Ward 1 to an apartment in Ward 3 in order to run for that ward’s open council seat.
When initially questioned by a reporter, Solorio said he was using part of the one-bedroom apartment as his campaign office, and cited a 24-year-old FPPC advice letter that he claimed gave him the go-ahead to use campaign money for a portion of the rent.
However, the advice letter stated that in order for such an arrangement to be legal, there had to be two separate leases – one for the campaign office and another for the living quarters. A lease document obtained by Voice of OC from another source showed he was personally leasing the entire apartment.
Voice of OC’s reporting prompted one of Solorio’s opponents in the Ward 3 race, David De Leon, to filed a complaint with the FPPC alleging a violation.
A few days later, Solorio personally reimbursed his campaign for the rent and said he’d stop using campaign funds for it.
Before the settlement, Solorio was facing a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.
He issued a statement Friday emphasizing that he spent the campaign funds based on his attorney’s advice, and ultimately settled the FPPC case for less than the full possible fine.
“The FPPC has agreed that since I relied on my campaign’s legal counsel regarding my office rent, reimbursed our campaign committee already, and never had any previous issues before the FPPC, that a reduced administrative penalty would address the complaint they received from one of my opponents,” Solorio said.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.