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Florida Congressman Has Yet To Take Office Amid Talk Of Investigations

Dec 13, 2018
Originally published on December 13, 2018 10:28 am
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Last month, Ross Spano won the race to represent Florida's 15th Congressional District. But there's now talk of investigations into how the Republican lawmaker financed his campaign. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Ross Spano had a jubilant election night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSS SPANO: I want to thank a few people from our staff. I've got to thank my best friend, Cary Carreno. I've known him since the sixth grade.

(APPLAUSE)

OVERBY: Cary Carreno wasn't just an old friend. By Spano's own account, Carreno gave him $35,000 last June, and two days later, Spano loaned that same amount to his campaign. Other records show Spano getting even more from another ally. He says these cash infusions were loans and he'll pay them back. This brings in the Federal Election Commission. Spanos' lawyer wrote the FEC a coming-clean kind of letter basically saying that Spano thought it was all legal because he was getting loans, not contributions. But it wasn't.

BRENDAN FISCHER: For purposes of campaign finance law, it doesn't actually matter.

OVERBY: That's Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center. Federal law treats personal loans to candidates just like campaign contributions. There's a $2,700 limit. Campaign finance lawyer Brett Kappel said coming clean to the FEC often works.

BRETT KAPPEL: Campaigns generally have their cases heard more quickly, and they wind up paying lower fines.

OVERBY: But in this case, maybe not. The FEC has to decide if the money transfers were knowing and willful. If they decide yes, the Justice Department would get the case as a criminal matter. One suggestion it might have been knowing and willful, Spano didn't file his personal financial disclosure revealing the cash going into his bank account till just before Election Day, six months overdue. That's the purview of the House Ethics Committee, which could also investigate. This all came to light only because reporters from the Tampa Bay Times pursued it. Again, Brendan Fischer at the Campaign Legal Center.

FISCHER: Absent the disclosure and absent a robust and active press, we may not have identified these violations of the law.

OVERBY: Spano declined to comment for this story. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.