Politics

Florida Republican Not Even Sworn In, Facing Campaign Finance Questions

New reports raise questions about Ross Spano super PAC coordination, 2012 campaign

Rep.-elect Ross Spano, R-Fla., has not been sworn into Congress yet, but already faces bipartisan calls for an inquiry into his alleged campaign finance violations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The campaign finance issues looming around Rep.-elect Ross Spano, R-Fla., have grown more troublesome in recent days with new questions about the role of a longtime friend in funding his campaigns and hiring his new Congressional staff.

Spano has not been sworn into Congress yet, but already faces bipartisan calls for inquiries by the Federal Election Commission and the House Ethics Committee into how he funded his campaign to replace in Rep. Dennis A. Ross in the 15th District.

Spano acknowledged in a letter to federal regulators in November he may 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.

Spano accepted $75,000 from Cary Carreno — a businessman in utilities, longtime donor and a childhood friend — on Oct. 29, eight days before the election, and lent his campaign $70,000 the same day. 

Over the course of the campaign Carreno loaned Spano a total of $110,000, according to the letter.

Spano has blamed any lawbreaking on an error by his campaign treasurer, who denied she knew anything about the loans to the Tampa Bay Times.

“The only information I received was they were drawn from his personal account,” she said.

Carreno personally fired the treasurer, according to a recent Politico report. At the same time, Carreno’s company donated $11,000 to a super PAC aligned with the candidate called CIVIC.

A super PAC donor performing an action on behalf of a campaign such as firing the committee’s treasurer raises red flags, experts say. Under campaign finance law, candidates and their staffs cannot directly coordinate with super PACs.

Also, Carreno served as the treasurer, then deputy treasurer of Spano’s campaign committee during his first bid for a seat in the Florida statehouse in 2012 — a campaign that sourced 20 percent of its funding from personal loans — Florida Politics reported. The source of those loans remains uncertain.

Carreno has also been interviewing candidates to staff Spano’s congressional office, according to Politico. The possibility of impending legal troubles have reportedly spooked away would-be staffers. 

“He has not been involved in any official capacity in the DC hiring process, and there are no current plans to bring him on as a staff member,” Spano spokesman Sandi Poredo told the publication. 

Both Republicans and Democrats in the Florida Congressional delegation have endorsed an inquiry into Spano’s loans.

“There are FEC rules, there is an enforcement mechanism and if the FEC is going to do an investigation it should be done in a free and fair way,” Florida Republican Rep. Michael Waltz said in an interview with WFVT.

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