Santa Ana City Council candidate Jose Solorio says he’s decided to stop using campaign funds to pay part of his apartment rent, after Voice of OC reported last week that the arrangement could violate state law.

In a statement emailed to Voice of OC Monday night, the former state assemblyman, who is now a lobbyist, announced that he has personally reimbursed $2,880 in campaign funds he spent on the apartment rent. In July, Solorio moved to the apartment from his family home in the city’s Ward 1 so he could run for an open council seat in Ward 3.

He has said he could use campaign funds for part of the rent because he uses a portion of the apartment as a campaign office.

“When my campaign made the decision to share office space, it did so with the understanding that the arrangement was permitted by law,” said Solorio. He filed a new public disclosure Monday showing that he reimbursed his campaign last Friday, two days after the Voice of OC story.

“In an abundance of caution, I have decided to discontinue this arrangement and am reimbursing my campaign with personal dollars. I hope that we can now return to discussing issues that are important to improving quality of life for Santa Ana residents,” Solorio said.

It is illegal to use campaign funds for personal expenses, including a candidate’s rent, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which enforces campaign finance laws.

More specifically, state law says “campaign funds shall not be used for payment or reimbursement for the lease of real property” that a candidate is personally renting.

When first questioned about the arrangement, Solorio said he was following the guidelines set forth in a 1992 advice letter by the FPPC. That document states that the only way such an approach could be legal is if the campaign has a separate lease for the section of the property being used for campaign purposes.

But Solorio has so far refused to say if there are, in fact, separate leases.

And a document obtained by Voice of OC points to there being just one lease for the apartment. The record appears to be Solorio’s rental agreement, and shows that the entire apartment was rented personally to Solorio and his wife.

(Click here to read a portion of the document that indicates Solorio personally rented the whole apartment.)

Solorio did not return messages seeking to verify the document’s authenticity.

If the document is accurate, Solorio’s use of campaign money for his apartment rent appears to be illegal, according to the very advice letter he cited in his defense.

“Campaign funds…cannot be used to make payments for real property associated with the campaign when an officeholder or a candidate has a lease or rental agreement on the same physical premises,” the letter states.

If the FPPC decides Solorio’s arrangement was illegal, the agency can levy fines against him of up to $5,000 per violation. FPPC officials say they will decide by Oct. 20 whether to investigate the matter.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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