The FBI spoke with former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis about her role in a 2012 fundraiser for President Obama, but the candidate for Los Angeles County supervisor believes she did nothing wrong and doesn't know if the inquiry is continuing, her campaign consultant said Monday.
Steve Barkan, the campaign advisor, said in a statement that Solis had a "cordial" meeting with the FBI in November 2012 — about eight months after the fundraiser at the La Fonda supper club in Los Angeles.
Barkan declined to say if Solis informed Obama of the FBI's interest in her involvement in the fundraiser. "It is inappropriate for a Cabinet official to [discuss] private communications with the president," he said.
Citing two sources familiar with the matter, The Times on Saturday reported that the FBI had questioned a state lawmaker about Solis and the fundraiser, an interview that took place several months after she stepped down as Labor secretary in January 2013. Solis' campaign acknowledged in the story that she hired a Washington law firm during her final year in the Obama Cabinet "to address legal issues" involving the fundraiser.
The federal Hatch Act forbids Cabinet members to directly raise campaign money, although they generally are allowed to attend and give speeches at fundraisers. Solis was the star attraction at the La Fonda fundraiser, which tapped Latino community donors to support the president's reelection.
In Monday's statement, Barkan said: "Solis knows that the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from personally soliciting campaign donations. She believes that her participation in the [fundraiser] was proper and does not believe that she has done anything illegal or improper."
Last spring, an FBI agent asked state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) if Solis had solicited his support for the fundraiser, according to the two sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about the case.
A De León spokesman said the senator had no comment. Campaign disclosure filings show De León did not contribute to the Obama campaign.
Barkan said Solis has repaid most of a debt of $50,001 to $100,000 to the Washington law firm of Sidley Austin. The bill was reported on financial disclosure forms Solis filed shortly after resigning as Labor secretary. Such debts are reported only in broad ranges.
The Times also asked if Solis' decision to leave the Obama administration had anything to do with legal issues related to the debt. Barkan said Monday "she made her decision to return to her home for two reasons: to assist her family, including her recently widowed mother, and to explore serving again at the local level."
With a big advantage in name-recognition and fundraising capability, Solis is considered the clear front-runner to succeed Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is retiring because of term limits.
Molina, whose district includes downtown, East Los Angeles and parts of the San Gabriel Valley, has not endorsed a potential successor. She declined to comment Monday about the federal inquiry.
Labor groups that have lined up to support Solis said they remained committed to her. Unions have helped Solis raise more than $500,000 for her campaign and get a head start on any potential competitors, according to reports released Friday. Service Employees International Union Local 721, whose membership includes about 55,000 county employees, is a key backer.
"Hilda Solis has been a defender of labor rights and working people in general for her entire career," said Lowell Goodman, a Local 721 spokesman, on Monday. "We stand behind the endorsement, we stand behind Ms. Solis, and look forward to working with her when she wins the supervisor's seat in June."
Goodman declined to say if Solis informed SEIU officials of the FBI inquiry when the union vetted her for its endorsement.
Solis' most prominent opponent, El Monte City Councilman Juventino "J" Gomez, is hoping news of the federal inquiry can boost his chances, a spokesman said.
"We're watching the investigation with great intent," said Gomez's campaign consultant, Luis Alvarado. "And we're hoping the residents of L.A. County will."