Rep. Ross Spano still hasn’t addressed possibly illegal fundraising debts

Florida Republican’s campaign is still wrangling with possibly illegal fundraising debts from his 2018 election bid

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., makes his way to the Capitol for the last votes of the week on Thursday, May 23, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Ross Spano’s campaign is still wrangling with possibly illegal fundraising debts from his 2018 election bid, more than nine months after the inconsistency was first reported.

The Florida Republican’s second-quarter Federal Elections Commission report has him with $160,428 cash on hand after raising more than $375,000 so far this year — but still $176,857 in debt stemming from a loan he personally contributed to his campaign in the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterms.

[GOP Rep. Spano got just $1 in grassroots donations]

Where the money Spano loaned to his campaign came from has been put under the microscope. The FEC received a pair of complaints in December, requesting it to launch an investigation into two friends of Spano, Cary Carreno and Karen Hunt, who loaned him a combined $180,000 from May to October 2018.

Spano originally claimed in his 2018 FEC reports that the loan he gave his campaign on the eve of election derived from “personal funds.” After multiple local newspapers reported the existence of Carreno’s and Hunt’s loans, Spano admitted he may have violated FEC regulations by using money from those loans to help finance his campaign, but claimed it was an accident.

The freshman representative for Florida’s 15th District acknowledged in a letter to federal regulators last November that he might have violated campaign finance rules against straw donations by taking out $180,000 in loans from two benefactors and directing approximately the same amount to his campaign.

If Spano indeed used the money from the loans from Carreno and Hunt to loan his own campaign $167,000, that would be a violation of the Federal Campaign Finance Act that caps individual contributions to a campaign at $2,700 per cycle.

Spano has said he has repaid the loans from Carreno and Hunt after taking out a personal bank loan. In December, he took out a loan worth up to $250,000 from Center State Bank, according to his most recent personal financial disclosure.

Some bank loans are deemed permissible to pay back campaign finance debt, while others are not, campaign finance expert Nancy Watkins told the Tampa Bay Times.

If the terms of the personal bank loan Spano took out to pay back his debt to Carreno and Hunt are FEC-compliant, that should help settle the legal dust shrouding his re-election campaign, which he announced in February.

But he has not provided the terms of that loan to the FEC — as required by law — and his records still state that the money he lent his campaign in October 2018 came from “personal funds,” not from the money he was lent by Carreno and Hunt.

A spokesperson for Spano’s campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

Despite the ongoing legal mess surrounding his campaign, Spano is in a strong position to hold onto his seat in 2020. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2020 race for Florida's 15th District Solid Republican.

Spano defeated Democrat Kristen Carlson by 6 points in 2018. The district has been in Republican hands for more than two decades.

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