Wingman PAC, a single-candidate political committee supporting Republican Scott Franklin, is calling on opponent Alan Cohn to return nearly a quarter million dollars in alleged unauthorized campaign contributions.
The PAC is backed by a group of Franklin’s friends and has raised nearly $250,000.
News broke Wednesday from a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Cohn alleging the Democratic candidate for Florida’s 15th Congressional District illegally accepted more than $235,000 from an unauthorized committee — the House Victory Project 2020.
According to the complaint, Cohn accepted the transfer of funds from the committee, which supports Democratic congressional candidates, on Sept. 30. However, it alleges the House Victory Project 2020 was not an authorized campaign committee for Cohn for Congress until Oct. 4, violating contribution limits by more than $200,000.
“The people of Congressional District 15 know this story all too well. The old saying, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ aptly applies. The people of District 15 deserve better than an unproven leader who will gladly accept hundreds of thousands of illegal contributions without question,” said Wingman PAC spokesperson Christina Johnson in a news release. “We need a representative like Scott Franklin who will lead on day one, and not someone who will face an FEC legal battle.”
Political committees often can dump tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns, but to do so they have to be authorized committees for the campaigns. House Victory Project 2020 was not, at the time of the six-figure transfer, an authorized committee for Cohn for Congress.
The complaint references the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) and rules under the Federal Election Commission.
“Under FECA and Commission regulations, a campaign committee can only accept a transfer of funds from an authorized campaign account,” the complaint reads.
The complaint asks the FEC to order the transfer an “illegal excessive contribution,” order the transfer “disgorged,” which would refund the payment, and to fine Cohn’s campaign “appropriately.”
“This is a right-wing attack from a disgruntled failed congressional candidate and ultimately amounts to a minor clerical error,” said Cohn campaign manager Kevin Lata. “This information was publicly available on the FEC’s website and House Victory Project reported on September 15 that our campaign was a fundraising participant. Clearly, Scott Franklin and his allies are desperate to distract from his plans to end Social Security as we know it, and increase taxes on the middle class.”
If forced to return the more than $200,000 in excess of campaign contribution limits, Cohn’s campaign would take a huge hit. As of Sept. 30, the most recent date for which campaign finance reports have been filed with the FEC, Cohn had just over $412,000 on hand. Minus the $200,000 and Cohn would have less than Franklin’s nearly $283,000 still on hand as of the end of September. That money could make or break Cohn’s campaign in a race where he’s trailing in the polls.
Voters in CD 15, which covers parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties, have been here before. Cohn is running against Republican Franklin to replace incumbent Ross Spano, who is under federal investigation by the FEC.
Spano is still under federal investigation over his own illegal campaign contributions from 2018 when he first won election. Spano took nearly $200,000 in loans from two personal friends and then used those loans to fund his campaign. Under FEC rules, only a candidate or their spouse can loan a campaign money. That means the personal loans from friends constituted an illegal contribution, a fact Spano himself later acknowledged and blamed on bad financial advice from a consultant.
The difference between Spano and Cohn’s mistake is crucial — voters didn’t know of Spano’s mishap until after he was already elected. Cohn’s mistake is becoming public less than two weeks before the Nov. 3 General Election.
The complaint was filed by Republican Neil Combee. Combee ran unsuccessfully against Spano in the 2018 primary, an election he would later learn he lost after his opponent padded his war chest with out-of-bounds contributions.
Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch contributed to this report.