Former Santa Ana council member Jose Solorio has been fined once again for breaking state political campaign laws, this time for missing a number of campaign finance disclosure deadlines in past elections.
Such deadlines under the state — on paper — can give people a somewhat timely look at who exactly wants a candidate in power.
It’s not the first time Solorio has run into trouble with the state over his political campaign activities.
In 2016, he agreed to pay a $3,500 fine for using campaign money on apartment rent. The fine came after an investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) into a complaint over Solorio’s arrangement.
Now commission officials have fined Solorio a total of $2,815 for failing to file campaign activity reports by their state-required deadlines on 15 different occasions in past elections, according to a stipulation agreement between the FPPC and Solorio.
The violations involve four different political committees, all of which Solorio controlled for purposes including a 2016 City Council bid, a 2016 bid for the Rancho Santiago Community College District (RSCCD) College Board, a 2014 state Senate run and a ballot measure.
Solorio, reached for comment by phone on Friday, said:
“Most of this stems from my Democratic race for state Senate in 2014. They (the FPPC) did find a few filing issues, but nothing major and I’m just glad this was resolved.”
One such late disclosure by Solorio alone details $10,000 in political fundraising and/or expenditures.
FPPC officials say it was filed nine days late — on Oct. 29, 2016 — by his 2016 RSCCD College Board committee, according to the stipulation agreement.
On the day that filing was due — Oct. 20, 2016 — the commission formally opened its probe into Solorio’s use of campaign money for apartment rent.
Solorio, asked if he knew he was already under state investigation for the separate rent controversy when he missed the deadline for disclosing that $10,000 in campaign activity, said the violations all occurred years ago and “I’m just glad this is resolved.”
“It’s just politics in California … Proponents and detractors will file complaints,” Solorio said of his campaign violation history in general.
FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga said the case that led to the FPPC’s latest fine against Solorio was initiated by the agency, not by a complaint.
Last year, Solorio was also accused by a former political opponent, David de Leon, of evading campaign contribution limits for his unsuccessful run for Santa Ana mayor in 2020, through what de Leon said was the joint use of Solorio’s mayoral committee and a separate ballot measure committee to pay for promotional materials.
Solorio on Friday said the commission didn’t find any merit to that complaint, providing a letter from the state agency dated Oct. 27 last year, which details a refusal by the FPPC to pursue an enforcement action in response to de Leon’s complaint.
“After review of the complaint and evidence provided, the Enforcement Division will not pursue an enforcement action in this matter,” the letter reads.
Wierenga on Friday confirmed the letter’s authenticity.
The commission’s latest fine against Solorio comes several years after these violations occurred, as Solorio has since left his most recent office on the Santa Ana City Council.
Asked about this, and whether the FPPC’s current enforcement structure is an effective tool to discourage people from violating the state’s laws in the future, Wierenga said “this settles cases against four different committees controlled by Solorio, and that took awhile.”
“Every effort is made at all times to conduct investigations in both the most timely AND most thorough manner possible, as both are equally important,” Wierenga said in a previous emailed statement. “Every effort is made to reach settlements that are fair AND are in line with similar types of cases and violations, so that all receive as equal a treatment as possible.”
Also asked about this, Solorio said the commission receives “hundreds if not thousands of complaints every year.”
“A big benefit to all, including the public, would be to keep moving toward real-time disclosures and opportunities for candidates to address and re-file any campaign reports in question,” he said.
In 2020, the FPPC received 2,908 complaints and referrals over alleged campaign finance law violations, according to a July report. The agency opened 1,155 cases and closed 1,526.
The FPPC levied a total of around $1.9 million in fines for state political campaign law violations that same year.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.