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Ross Spano sticks to illegal contributions defense, won’t reveal key facts

The Federal Election Commission and U.S. Justice Department are investigating. Spano has also failed to correctly file campaign finance reports.

In a recent television interview, U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, repeated the defense he’s offered since his 2018 election over illegal contributions to his campaign: He says he didn’t know it was illegal to borrow money from friends and then lend it to his campaign as his own money, and that he has honestly reported the situation.

“The fact that I came out quickly aggressively and I was transparent about it shows that … I’m honest and open and I want to make sure people understand, you know, this was unintentional,” he told WTSP-Ch. 10 on Feb. 7.

Nonetheless, Spano still has continued to refuse to divulge key facts about the situation, which has led to investigations by the Federal Election Commission and U.S. Justice Department. He has also failed to correctly file campaign finance reports that could shed light on his actions.

  • Spano has said he was advised by consultants that it was legal to borrow $180,000 from friends and lend the proceeds to his campaign. But he has refused to say which consultants told him that. His then-treasurer, Jamie Jodoin, has denied she did; campaign finance experts say anyone with basic knowledge would know it was illegal.
  • Spano has said repeatedly that he reported the problems himself as soon as he learned of them, including telling WTSP-Ch. 10 he reported it “before it became public knowledge.” He said that shows he was acting in good faith and thought his actions were legal. But Spano reported the loans in a letter to the FEC dated Nov. 30, 2018. That was nearly a month after the Tampa Bay Times reported on Nov. 5, 2018 — the day before the election — that the loans from friends “appear to be the source” of his loans to his campaign, and likely were illegal. Three days earlier, Spano had declined in an interview with the Times to say where he got the money.
  • Spano’s campaign finance reports continue until today to say the money came from “personal funds of the candidate.” If it came from loans from friends, that’s false, said campaign finance law expert Mark Herron.
  • Spano announced in January 2019 that he repaid his friends’ loans by getting a personal bank loan. But under campaign finance law, the loans from his friends are considered illegal campaign contributions and should have been refunded by the campaign — not the candidate — as soon as it learned of them. Not all bank loans meet legal requirements for campaigns, and a campaign that receives one must report the terms. The Spano campaign has never reported refunding the contributions, but it has partially repaid Spano for his loans to the campaign.
  • In the WTSP-Ch. 10 interview, Spano said there are “documents (that) aren’t publicly available, but … show that all the things I’m saying in good faith are actually true.” The FEC and Justice Department won’t release information about pending investigations, but there’s no reason Spano couldn’t release any documents in his possession, said Herron.

Spano refused last week to answer questions about the documents, including whether he has them or how he came to see them; and about consultants’ advice, his FEC reports and the date he reported the violation.

Griffin, Millan headed for showdown

Nancy Millan is showing what looks like strong momentum in her campaign for Hillsborough County tax collector.

The community relations chief in the tax collector’s office, she has raised $95,170 in four months, about five times the total for her opponent, former school board member April Griffin.

Millan plans a kickoff this week hosted by some 70 big-name local Democrats. Among them: elected officials including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, state Sen. Janet Cruz, Clerk Pat Frank; eight current and former commissioners and council members; big-dollar donor/fundraisers including Betty Castor, Terrell Sessums and Tom Scarritt; plus a sprinkling of Republicans.

The Democratic primary in the Hillsborough County tax collector’s race is between April Griffin (left) and Nancy Millan (right). [ ]

But that momentum is headed toward a formidable obstacle: a Democratic primary against an experienced opponent with long history in the party. Besides winning three countywide school board races, Griffin is a former Young Democrats president and county party vice-chairman.

With Republican TK Mathew in the race — even if he qualifies as a write-in, avoiding the $10,102 qualifying fee — the Democratic primary will be “closed,” so only registered Democrats can vote. That means an electorate skewed toward active Democrats with whom Griffin has worked side-by-side in campaign trenches.

“Our (political) records are going to be part of the conversation,” Griffin said. “People have the right to ask us, what is your record? I can speak about my record defending Democratic values and principles.”

Millan is a long-time Democrat but hasn’t been politically active.

“I haven’t been as involved as my opponent, but we should be picking the person best qualified to do the job,” she said. “I believe my 30 years of experience in the office and a leadership role makes me the best qualified.”

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.

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