U.S. Rep.-elect Ross Spano admitted in a letter to the Federal Elections Commission that he financed his congressional run with personal loans, a clear violation of campaign finance regulations.
The admission comes weeks after the Riverview Republican won an election over Democrat Kristen Carlson for an open seat representing Florida’s 15th Congressional District. It also comes days after Carlson publicly called on the FBI to investigate Spano’s campaign contributions.
Spano borrowed $70,000 from Karen Hunt and $110,000 from Cary Carreno through four personal loans, then contributed the money to Ross Spano for Congress through installments between May 3 and Oct. 29.
Spano’s legal team sent a letter (below) to the FEC stating the candidate received bad advice on the legality of using the funds.
“When Representative-Elect Spano took out the personal four loans and when Representative-Elect Spano made the four loans to the Committee, he believed he was acting in full compliance with the law,” reads a letter by attorney Elliot Farah.
“Respondents now recognize that some of the proceeds from the personal loans made to Representative-Elect Spano and the personal loans he made to the Committee may have been in violation of the Federal Campaign Finance Act.”
Spano campaign spokesperson Sandi Poreda said Spano proactively wanted to inform the FEC of the problem and said the campaign has not been informed of any investigation or formal complaint.
But Carlson just this week told The Ledger the FBI should investigate personal loans totaling $174,500 that appeared on Spano’s financial disclosure forms before his heavy contributions to his Congressional campaign.
Carlson told the newspaper she sent a letter to the FBI on Nov. 15, saying she went to the law enforcement agency because the FEC cannot bring criminal charges.
“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 fed law that I thought it deserved to be investigated,” Carlson told the newspaper.
“I think Ross Spano would want it looked as 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.”
Poreda noted Spano did not try to hide his personal loans, including the information on FEC disclosure forms, and believed it legal to use money received through the loans from individuals to self-finance his campaign. Federal law puts a cap on contributions individuals may donate but none of how much a candidate’s personal money can go toward their own election.
The letter to the FEC said all the personal loans Spano received carry a 5-percent annual interest rate and will be repaid in full by the close of next week. Berke stresses in the letter that Spano, Hunt and Carreno all believed they operated within the law at the time of the loans.
“Upon such recognition, the respondents have taken several proactive steps to address this matter, including but not limited to engaging our firm as counsel, terminating prior accountancy, compliance, and relevant consultancy representations, and engaging new accountancy, compliance, and consultancy representations,” Berke writes.
Poreda said Spano worked on bad advice from a campaign treasurer no longer connected to the campaign. The campaign used the St. Petersburg firm Spoor Bunch Franz. as treasurer when the loans and contributions were reported. Jamie Jodoin served as treasurer when the loans and contributions were reported.
Spano filed his financial disclosures on Nov. 3, and the Tampa Bay Times on Nov. 5 wrote an article questioning the source of Spano’s loans to his campaign.
The race in CD 15 became one of the top-tier Congressional races in the Sunshine State this year after incumbent Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, announced his retirement.