Revelations that GOP Rep.-elect Ross Spano violated campaign finance law by taking out personal loans and directing approximately the same amount to his campaign should disqualify him from serving in Congress, Florida Democrats say.
Spano “knew exactly what he was doing when he took personal loans and used them as campaign funds, which is against the law,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement earlier this week. “This matter needs to be fully investigated, and appropriate actions taken.”
The freshman Republican acknowledged transgressing rules against straw donations in a letter from his attorney to the Federal Election Commission dated last week.
Spano borrowed $180,000 in four installments from June to October at an interest rate of 5 percent. The candidate lent his campaign committee $167,000 in personal funds over roughly the same period.
Spano accepted $75,000 from a lender on Oct. 29, eight days before the election, and directed $70,000 to his campaign on the same day.
The loans far exceed the $2,700 limit on contributions from individuals to federal candidates. Spano expects to fully repay them by the end of this week, according to the letter to regulators.
The loans only came to light on the eve of Election Day through a financial disclosure form Spano submitted 3½ months after it was due, facing questions from the Tampa Bay Times about the missing filing.
That delay casts doubt on the assertion made in the letter that Spano “believed he was acting in full compliance of the law,” critics say.
Whether Spano knowingly broke the law is a critical question, because while the FEC can impose lighter penalties through an expedited “sua sponte” procedure when candidates proactively report violations, commission regulators may consider whether the violation was a mistake or “knowing and willful.”
Spano "took the proactive step to voluntarily disclose this information in an effort to rectify the situation as quickly as possible," spokeswoman Sandi Poreda stressed in an email Monday.
Despite the doubts surrounding the claim that Spano believed he was acting lawfully, he will likely be successful in seeking resolution through the FEC's expedited process.
“I’m not aware of a ‘sua sponte’ complaint that has been rejected,” an FEC spokesman said.
The new information about Spano's loans, and the possibility that the member-elect will be sworn into office with no punishment more severe than a fine, outraged his former campaign opponents.
“Had I known that the remedy may be to say I got bad advice and ask for forgiveness, I bet I could have found some sugar daddy that needed a friend in Congress to ‘loan’ me a wad,” former Republican primary opponent Neil Combee told Florida Politics.
His former opponents question how Spano, once a candidate for state attorney general, could have been unaware of the law.
“He blames it on misguided advice from his treasurer, but his name is on the checks ... once he gets a ‘hall pass’ from this transgression, who will Spano be beholden to?” said Danny Kushmer, another Republican primary opponent who went on to endorse Spano in the general election.
“Unfortunately, I did not know to what extent he was willing to go to win.”
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, suggesting she doesn’t see a resolution to the partisan impasse over border wall funding, said Thursday she’d like to see the Department of Homeland Security funded on a continuing resolution through the remainder of fiscal 2019.
Seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills, including the DHS measure, are currently running on a continuing resolution that expires Friday. The House passed another stopgap by unanimous consent Thursday that will extend the funding deadline to Dec. 21. The Senate is expected to pass that two-week CR later Thursday.
Pelosi said said her preferred solution for meeting the new deadline is for Congress to pass the six appropriations bills that appropriators have agreement on with a continuing resolution for the DHS measure.
The DHS stopgap should run through remainder of fiscal 2019, she said.
Appropriators and leaders in both parties have said that border wall funding is pretty much the last item that remains unresolved in the seven spending bills Congress has yet to pass.
President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans want a minimum of $5 billion for the border wall. Many House Democrats don’t want any wall funding, while Senate Democrats have said they’re open to the $1.6 billion their chamber provided in its version of the DHS appropriations bill for “pedestrian fencing.”
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had been scheduled to meet with Trump on Tuesday to negotiate on the matter, but the meeting was delayed with former President George H.W. Bush lying in state.
“We’ll meet with the president next week as we go forward to negotiate that,” Pelosi said Thursday.
The fiscal 2018 omnibus Congress passed this spring included $1.6 billion for border security that would have allowed fencing as well. A continuing resolution for DHS would authorize that same amount to be spent in fiscal 2019.
Pelosi said she would not interpret a DHS CR as allowing for continued construction of the border wall, saying the language does not provide for that.
“It’s immoral still, and we’re not going to pay for it,” Pelosi said.
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A longtime aide to Sen. Kamala Harris resigned Wednesday after another news publication asked about a $400,000 sexual harassment and retaliation settlement stemming from his time working for the California Department of Justice.
The Sacramento Bee first reported this story.
Larry Wallace, a top aide to Harris in her Senate office in Sacramento, was the California Democrat’s director of the Law Enforcement Division when she was the state attorney general.
A spokeswoman for Harris said the senator did not know Wallace’s former executive assistant at the California DOJ had filed a lawsuit alleging “gender harassment” and retaliation against her for telling a superior about Wallace’s demeaning behavior.
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“We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously. This evening, Mr. Wallace offered his resignation to the senator and she accepted it,” Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams said in a statement.
Harris, widely seen as a potential challenger to President Donald Trump in 2020 if she can secure the Democratic nomination, has been one of the most outspoken politicians in the #MeToo movement.
She was one of the first senators to call on Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct against him last year.
“Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere,” Harris tweeted at the time, urging Franken’s resignation.
The plaintiff, Danielle Hartley, filed suit against the California DOJ in December of 2016, when Harris was still attorney general but was transitioning to the Senate to begin her first term. She took much of her senior staff with her, including Wallace.
Xavier Becerra, the new AG, settled the case for $400,000 in May 2017, less than five months later.
Shortly after being hired in 2011 to be Wallace’s assistant, “Hartley had concerns she was being harassed and demeaned due to her gender,” the lawsuit states. Wallace allegedly demanded that she crawl under his desk on a daily basis to add paper to the printer there and change its ink — often in front of other male executives from his division.
Hartley asked Wallace to move the printer so she would not have to crawl under his desk in skirts and shorts, the lawsuit states, but he refused.
The lawsuit also alleges that Wallace stripped Hartley of her professional duties, asking her to book flights for his children and wash his car for him instead — tasks that raised eyebrows among her coworkers, who made snide remarks to her.
When Hartley told her supervisor about the alleged harassment, the supervisor met with Wallace. After that meeting, the lawsuit alleges, Hartley was “set up to fail” by Wallace and eventually “told she should quit her job and seek employment elsewhere.”
The lawsuit details the psychological fallout Hartley experienced from her time working at the California DOJ, from depression to panic attacks.
It is unclear what kind of impact Wallace’s departure could have on Harris’ 2020 ambitions.
Harris has said she will decide over the holidays whether she will run for president in 2020.
House Democrats will soon have a discussion about whether to subject their committee chairs to term limits, an idea that has long divided the caucus, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
“That’s a matter before the caucus,“ the California Democrat told reporters during her weekly news conference. “I’ve always been sympathetic to the concerns that have been expressed by our members on that subject.”
But Pelosi declined to stake out a position on the proposal, saying, “That’s a debate for the caucus to have, and we will have that.”
Republicans limit their committee leaders to serving three terms, regardless of whether that time is spent as chairman or ranking member.
Democrats do not have any limit on how long their committee leaders can serve, which has led to some holding the top spot for years without an opportunity for other panel members to move up. Similar complaints have been lodged against Pelosi and her top two deputies in elected leadership, all of whom have been in leadership for more than a decade.
Pelosi said incoming Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has “received much interest” from members, particularly incoming freshmen, on the idea of term limits for committee leaders.
She said the caucus will have a discussion on the proposal but it is unclear whether it will be in the coming weeks or January. With the incoming freshmen no longer in town, any discussion held this month would have to include them by teleconference or something, Pelosi said.
The Democratic leader's comments Thursday came after the Huffington Post reported Wednesday night that she offered to back the term limit proposal in a meeting with Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter, one of the Democrats who has been opposing her speaker bid.