GOP congressman-elect Ross Spano disguised several large campaign contributions from two major donors, and then gave one of those donors influence over who gets hired and fired.
House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Tuesday that if Trump could be impeached for his campaign finance violations, a lot of members of Congress would have to leave.
He may be right.
Lawyers for Ross Spano, a newly elected Republican member of Congress from Florida, admitted to the Federal Election Commission last week that Spano "may have" violated the Federal Campaign Finance Act.
Spano's violation, though he tries to paint it as an honest oversight, isn't some simple paperwork error. He appears to have spent "personal loans" on his campaign, which allowed two rich donors to give his campaign a whole lot more than the personal contribution limit of $2,700 per election cycle.
And then Spano then let one of those donors have influence over his staff hiring.
During the primary and general election season, Spano received a series of what he called personal loans from two people he said were long-time friends: a total of $70,000 from Karen Hunt and $110,000 from Cary Carreno.
During that same time, Spano loaned his campaign around $174,000 — a number very close to that $180,000 he received from his friends. Spano said the loans were from his personal funds.
It looks like Spano used this scheme to hide the too-large sums of money he got from two major donors. The scheme worked — at least long enough for Spano to get elected — because it is permissible for candidates to lend their own campaigns unlimited amounts of money.
But Spano likely didn't have that money to loan. He's had banks take him to court over unpaid debts, and he faced foreclosure. In July 2016, he only had around $24,000 in his bank and retirement accounts.
At least one of Spano's two donors, Carreno, seems to have leveraged those loans into influence over employment decisions in Spano's office.
Carreno fired the campaign's treasurer, perhaps in an attempt to make it look like the campaign was cleaning house after the loan scandal — except it also may not be legal to let one of your campaign contributors fire your treasurer.
All of this looks similar to the corrupt way Trump deals with his personal finances, his campaign finances, and his administration.
And being a big Trump donor can definitely buy you "unofficial" influence over hiring and policy — just look at Trump's Veterans' Administration cronies, who have wielded enormous and unaccountable power.
It's no wonder that GOP politicians don't want to condemn Trump's behavior. They're just like him. They see nothing wrong with hiding donations and gaming the system — anything in service of winning.
But Spano may also face a very Trumpian consequence for his behavior. Both his Republican opponent in the primary and his Democratic opponent in the general have asked the FBI to investigate, and many of his soon-to-be House colleagues have called for a congressional ethics investigation. Local columnists are calling on him to resign before even taking office.
Not an auspicious start for a new congressman.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.