TAMPA — A $40,000 personal loan to his campaign has prompted three election law violation complaints against state House candidate James Grant.
The complaints, filed by Hillsborough County Democratic Party vice chairman Chris Mitchell, charge that the loan is in fact an illegal campaign contribution from First Citrus Bank. The complaints also accuse Grant of violating elections law by racking up expenses in his primary campaign without having the money to cover them, and accepting contributions within five days of the primary election — which state law prohibits.
Grant, the son of former state Sen. John Grant, is the Republican candidate for the District 47 state House seat, which represents northwest Hillsborough county. He'll face Democrat Michael Steinberg in November.
Grant called the elections complaints a political stunt and said he has done nothing wrong.
"A bank can lend to a person and a person can be on the hook," Grant said Wednesday. "My bank loaned to me and I made a loan from me to the James Grant campaign."
But Mitchell said Wednesday he wants to know why a bank would give a three-month, $40,000 loan to a 28-year-old man who, according to state-required financial disclosure forms filed to qualify for the ballot, has a negative net worth of $5,780.
"Something doesn't smell right here," Mitchell said.
He questions whether Grant's father helped secure the loan or if bank president John Barrett was trying to skirt the $500 campaign contribution limit. Barrett made a $100 personal contribution to Grant's campaign.
"There had to be some strings pulled for James Grant to get his loan," Mitchell said.
Grant, though, said he went to the bank with enough collateral to back the loan.
"It's a fully collateralized loan made payable to me personally," Grant said, noting that he could have used the money for anything, from buying a car to paying bills. But he chose to use it for his election campaign.
"At the end of the day I'm still responsible," Grant said. "They're literally holding a certificate of deposit that would come straight from me if I defaulted on the loan."
Mitchell also alleges that Grant violated state law by authorizing payments from his campaign account when he didn't have the money to cover the expenses.
As evidence, Mitchell points to state records that show Grant made the loan to his campaign on Aug. 19, and he paid $35,800 to Desumo Strategies, a Virginia-based political consultant, on Sept. 3.
Mitchell alleges that expense was for mailers sent in the last days before the Aug. 24 primary election, when Grant was in a tight, four-way contest for the nomination. According to Mitchell, that timing means Grant must have reached an agreement with Desumo before Aug. 19.
State records also show Grant received four campaign contributions within four days of the Aug. 24 primary. They include donations of $500 each from his mother and father. According to state law, candidates cannot accept contributions within five days of an election.
The complaint now goes to the Florida Elections Commission for review.
Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.