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State’s top Democrat calls on Ross Spano to repay illegal loans

Spano still owes about $60,000.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo is calling on Congressman Ross Spano to return funds he borrowed from friends to finance his 2018 election that might have constituted an illegal campaign contribution.

Spano borrowed nearly $170,000 from two friends and then contributed those funds to his 2018 campaign. Candidates can put as much of their own money into their campaign as they want, but individual contributors are subject to contribution limits, which the $170,000 far exceeds.

Spano repaid $110,000 of those loans, but still owes nearly $60,000.

“Congressman Spano is a career politician and when he took other people’s secret money to illegally finance his campaign, he knew what he was doing and he knew it was wrong. He even admitted it might have been illegal after the fact,” Rizzo said. “Now, Congressman Spano is facing a bipartisan investigation into his finances and his latest finance report proves that he’s still holding onto his friends’ tainted money. He should return every penny of the thousands of dollars he took and apologize to his constituents.”

The problem for Spano is — if he had repaid all of the loans, he would have been left with only about $10,000 in his campaign account.

In a press release Tuesday when third quarter financial reports were due, Spano’s campaign explained away its low cash balance saying the loans were partially paid back “at the recommendation of staff from the Federal Election Commission.”

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Ethics is investigating Spano’s loans.

The issue has left Spano with a figurative target on his back. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been hammering Spano over them ever since he was elected last year and has made Spano one of its top targets to unseat in 2020.

After Tuesday’s third quarter financial report, the group slammed Spano over his sluggish campaign finance activity that barely pulled the Congressman out of the red. Spano’s second quarter reports showed his campaign was $16,000 in the negative.

Spano will face one of two challengers next November. Democrats Adam Hattersley, who currently serves as a Florida Representative, and former Tampa Bay area newsman Alan Cohn are running in the primary. Both posted solid third quarter earnings — the first report of both of their campaigns. Hattersley raised $115,000 and Cohn $73,000. Cohn entered the race about six weeks later than Hattersley. Both have about $70,000 left in the bank.

To put Spano’s own cash in hand into perspective for an incumbent, Congressman Charlie Crist in neighboring Congressional District 13 has more than $2 million banked for his reelection.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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