One of U.S. Rep. Ross Spano’s fiercest supporters, and the man who loaned him the bulk of funds now under federal investigation, received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of up to $350,000, reports show.
Cary Carreno, Spano’s longtime friend, received between $150,000 and $350,000 for Alternative Energy Applications, the company he heads as CEO.
There’s nothing immediately untoward about the loan. PPP loans are available to small businesses to help shoulder ongoing operational costs amid the COVID-19 economic slow down. The funds can be forgiven if companies meet certain criteria, including retaining staff during the eight-week period covered under the program.
But it does raise eyebrows.
Carreno loaned Spano $110,000 in 2018, which Spano used to then loan his own campaign, a clear violation of campaign contribution limits. Spano is under federal investigation over the misstep.
Under PPP guidelines, companies cannot receive loans if they’ve been charged with or convicted of fraud. That’s not the case now, but Carreno could face charges if the investigation finds him culpable in Spano’s campaign finance violation.
Whether or not that happens is technically irrelevant to the PPP loan since it would be Carreno specifically affected, not his company. But it highlights a long list of troubles facing the Spano campaign.
Carreno reportedly personally fired Spano’s 2018 campaign treasurer, Jamie Jodoin, after reports came out about the illegal loans, which included another $70,000 from another of Spano’s friends.
The problem is, federal law bars campaigns from coordinating with outside super PACs supporting its candidate. Carreno was not officially working for the campaign, but he was a major contributor to a PAC that has supported Spano, CIVIC. His company was the first to donate to the PAC, contributing to donations totaling $11,000.
Spano’s campaign claims Carreno does not work for the campaign and that Spano, as a longtime friend, merely turns to him for advice on occasion.
“I don’t see how the firing of a treasurer of the campaign by a contributor is legal unless the contributor is also an agent of the campaign. But if he’s an agent of the campaign, that raises coordination issues,” election law attorney Brett Kappel told Politico in 2018.
Spano’s campaign finance mistakes were the primary driver for drawing a primary opponent. Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin said he largely decided to enter the race because of the campaign finance violation.
If Spano survives his primary, he’ll face one of two Democrats — Rep. Adam Hattersley, who currently serves in Spano’s old House District, or former investigative journalist Alan Cohn.
The primary election is August 18. The winners will face each other Nov. 3.