LOCAL L.A. Now

FBI interviewed Hilda Solis in probe of Obama fundraiser

The FBI spoke to former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis about her role in a 2012 fundraiser for President Obama, but she believes she did nothing wrong and does not know if the authorities are still investigating, her campaign consultant said Monday.

Steve Barkan, a consultant for Solis' Board of Supervisors campaign, said in a statement that she had a “cordial” meeting with the FBI in November 2012 -- some eight months after the fundraiser at La Fonda supper club in Los Angeles. “She is unaware of the current status of the inquiry," he said.

Citing two sources familiar with the case, 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. In that story, Solis’ supervisorial campaign acknowledged that she hired a Washington, D.C., law firm during her final year in the Obama Cabinet “to address legal issues” involving the La Fonda fundraiser.

A federal law known as the Hatch Act forbids Cabinet members from directly raising 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 focused on tapping support in the Latino community for 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 did not say if Solis has repaid a debt to the law firm Sidley Austin of $50,001 to $100,000, which was reported on financial disclosure forms she filed shortly after resigning as labor secretary. Such debts are reported on the forms in broad categories of figures.

The Times asked the Solis campaign if her decision to leave the Obama administration had anything to do with her need for legal help. Barkan said Monday that “she made her decision to return home for two reasons: to assist her family, including her recently widowed mother, and to explore serving again at the local level.”

Solis faces no formidable opposition in her bid to replace Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is retiring because of term limits.   

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paul.pringle@latimes.com

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