Politics

Newly Elected Congressman Says He May Have Broken Campaign Finance Law

Incoming Rep. Ross Spano accepted large personal loans during campaign, delayed reporting them

Incoming Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., acknowledged possibly violating campaign finance law in a letter to regulators dated Friday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Florida member-elect Ross Spano acknowledged he may have violated campaign finance law and promised to repay $180,000 in personal loans by the end of week in a letter to federal regulators.

The freshman Republican and his lenders now recognize they may have transgressed rules against straw donations “in violation of the Federal Campaign Finance Act,” according to a letter from his attorney to the Federal Election Commission dated Friday and first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

Spano borrowed $70,000 from Karen Hunt, a retiree, and $110,000 from Cary Carreno, a businessman in utilities, 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 approximately the same period.

Spano accepted $75,000 from Carreno on Oct. 29, eight days before the election, and lent his campaign $70,000 the same day.

Those loans far exceed the limit on contributions from individuals to federal candidates of $2,700.

They first came to light when Spano submitted a financial disclosure form three-and-a-half months after it was due, facing questions from the Times about the missing filing. Critics say that delay casts doubt on an assertion made in the letter to regulators that Spano “believed he was acting in full compliance of the law.”

Spano has said the tardy report was an oversight.

The Times first reported the loans on Nov. 5, the eve of Election Day. Spano went on to best Kristen Carlson in a tossup race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Dennis Ross in the 15th District.

If found in violation of campaign finance law, Spano faces fines and possibly jail time.

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.”

“I’m not aware of a ‘sua sponte’ complaint that has been rejected,” an FEC spokesman said.

Spano may also face scrutiny from the House Ethics Committee, which will likely be under the purview of incoming chairman Rep. Peter Deutch, D-Fla., when Democrats assume control of the lower chamber.

Additionally, Carlson asked the Federal Bureau of Investigations to inspect the donations in a Nov. 15 letter.

“I made it clear that I had lost the election and I’m good with that, but I thought there was so much that was out there in the public domain as to whether or not there were violations of [campaign finance] law that I thought it deserved to be investigated,” Carlson told The Ledger last week.

“I think Ross Spano would want it looked at if he’s innocent. I would think he would want some resolution; otherwise it’s just sitting there clouding his being the representative of the 15th District.”

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