Republican Ross Spano was elected to represent Florida’s 15th congressional district in November, but it has since become known that Spano violated federal campaign finance law — a fact to which the candidate admits but claims was due to his ignorance of the law.
On Saturday Congressman-elect Spano publicly released a Federal Elections Commission filing which revealed that he had borrowed $180,000 from people he described as personal friends between June and October and loaned his campaign $167,000 during roughly the same period of time, according to The Tampa Bay Times. Although Spano described those loans as coming from his "personal funds," federal campaign finance law prohibits describing money given to a campaign through personal loans as coming from the candidate's own bank account. Those types of loans are supposed to be classified as campaign contributions — and, as such, limited to $2,700 each for both the primary and general elections.
In a letter published Saturday, Spano’s attorney wrote in defense of the Republican’s mistake, saying he and the two individuals who loaned him money believed they were following the law.
The Times wrote:
At the time of the loans, Spano "believed he was acting in full compliance with the law" as did the two lenders, "based on the consultations they had at the time," stated a letter to the Commission that was released Saturday afternoon.
But the letter, written by attorney Elliott Berke of Washington, said Spano and the lenders "now recognize that some of the proceeds from the personal loans … may have been in violation of the Federal Campaign Finance Act."
Berke said in the letter that he was submitting it on behalf of Spano and the two people who gave Spano the loans, retiree Karen Hunt of Plant City and businessman Cary Carreno of Valrico.
Spano’s Democratic opponent, Kirsten Carlson, has called for an investigation, and his primary opponent, Republican Rep. Neil Combee has accused Spano of violating the law but has not yet indicated what, if any, legal action he will pursue.
Whether Spano will face consequences is unclear: Berke’s letter said the filing was being made under a Commission rule that could carry lighter penalties if a candidate finds a mistake or uncovers wrongdoing and reports it voluntarily.
But the Commission may consider whether the candidate makes the report "before the violation had been or was about to be discovered by any outside party,” the Times noted.
In this case, the Tampa Bay Times reported just before the election that Spano had failed to file a personal financial disclosure report due in May that would have revealed the loans from Hunt and Carreno. He filed the disclosure the day after the Times asked him about it.
The Times then reported it appeared the personal loans to Spano may have been the source of his loans to his campaign, and Carlson sent her request for an investigation to the FBI Nov. 15.
A spokesman for Spano told the Times that he had not spoken with investigators as of Saturday and had not received “any letter of inquiry from the (Commission).”