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Did Ross Spano rely on questionable loans during 2012 race, too?

As U.S. Representative-elect Ross Spano faces questions about how he financed his recent congressional campaign, new questions have arisen about how he funded another close race, his first election in 2012 to the state House.

The Dover Republican won election to District 59 after winning the Republican nomination over Joe Wicker by a scant 175 votes, then winning a close general election over Democrat Gail Gottlieb by 1,051 votes.

Spano spent more than $242,000 throughout the campaign, more than 20 percent of it via candidate loans.

Perhaps, most notably, Spano received his financial advice from one of the individuals embroiled in his current scandal.

Spano initially appointed Cary Carreno as his campaign treasurer in 2012. That’s important because Spano’s current troubles stem from personal loans from two individuals, Carreno and Karen Hunt, used to finance his congressional campaign.

In a letter to the Federal Election Commission, attorneys for Spano argue that neither the candidate nor his benefactors knew they were breaking the law.

“[Spano] believed he was acting in full compliance with the law — as did Mr. Carreno and Ms. Hunt when they entered the promissory notes with him,” reads a letter from Spano’s attorneys.

But opponents from across the political spectrum question that, with Democrat Kristen Carlson calling for an FBI investigation, Republican Neil Combee calling Spano a “criminal” and Republican Danny Kushmer questioning the incoming Spano’s credibility. And incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she may not seat Spano.

In Spano’s 2012 campaign, Abby Dupree, a Tallahassee-based treasurer, eventually took over the lead financial role in that campaign. But Carreno, who submitted a resignation as treasurer, remained in the position of deputy campaign treasurer and the campaign continues to bank at Valrico State Bank in Hillsborough County.

Financial disclosures filed on June 4 of 2012 showed Spano’s net worth around $731,000, but without much regarding liquid assets. He owned a law firm worth $750,000 and had some $7,700 in investment accounts, as well as a life insurance policy worth close to $11,000.

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Under liabilities, he lists about $76,000 in student loans, $8,700 in medical liabilities and a $6,400 Alphera Financial loan.

The only incomes he lists is about $152,000 from his firm, Spano & Owen.

Florida Politics has placed calls to Dupree, who joined the campaign on June 25, 2012, but has not yet received comment. This story will be updated accordingly.

Throughout the campaign, Spano reported $51,000 in candidate loans. That included $41,000 worth of contributions before the Aug. 14 primary in 2012 and another $10,000 chipped in days before the Nov. 6 general election.

Incidentally, Carreno in 2012 also donated $500 to Spano’s campaign for the primary election and another $500 for the general, the maximum legal contribution.

Carreno did not return calls for comment.

Financial disclosures filed before his 2014 re-election campaign don’t indicate anything that covers the $51,000 candidate loans to Spano’s 2012 campaign. Liabilities include about $99,000 in American Education Services loans and about $8,800 in medical expenses.

The source of the 2012 loans isn’t clear.

Eric Robinson, who served as Spano’s campaign treasurer in 2014 and 2016 (but not in 2012 or his 2018 congressional race), said Florida law allows you to use loans to finance a state legislative campaign.

Spano reported no candidate loans to his 2014 or 2016 re-election efforts, where he faced no primary opposition and won the general elections by comfortable margins.

And if loans were pulled after the start of a campaign and paid back before new financial disclosures were filed, the loans would not appear on the disclosures.

Personal loans for candidates typically get loaned based on their own assets. A lack of explanation on where the loans in 2012 came from, though, raises new questions following Spano’s admission he relied on his friends and associated this year in an apparent end run around campaign finance laws.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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