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DOJ investigating GOP Rep. Ross Spano over alleged campaign-finance violations

By John Bresnahan

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into Florida GOP Rep. Ross Spano over alleged campaign finance violations. Spano has denied any wrongdoing.

The revelation came in an announcement by the House Ethics Committee, which has been asked by DOJ to defer its probe into Spano while the criminal investigation unfolds. The Ethics Committee traditionally defers to law enforcement agencies while criminal cases are ongoing.

Spano, a 53-year-old former Florida state legislator who was first elected to Congress in November 2018, has been under scrutiny for months over funds he loaned his campaign during last year's race. Spano claimed initially that nearly $175,000 he loaned his campaign came from personal funds. But it was later disclosed that Spano had received $180,000 in loans from personal friends.

Spano's attorney sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission shortly after the election acknowledging that Spano had misreported the source of the funds and filed updated campaign-finance reports. Florida Democrats filed multiple complaints against Spano and urged House Democrats not to seat him in the new session of Congress, but he was sworn in on schedule.

The Office of Congressional Ethics submitted a request to the Ethics Committee in late September seeking a formal investigation into the Spano matter. The Ethics panel was evaluating the OCE recommendation, but it has now stood aside while the Justice Department conducts a criminal probe.

"Today, the House Committee on Ethics deferred their review of my self-reported filings with the FEC. We plan to cooperate fully with the Justice Department on this matter,” Spano said in a statement released by his office.

“As I’ve said before, we acknowledged that mistakes were made with respect to the campaign loans, but those mistakes were completely inadvertent and unintentional. We were the ones who self-reported this to the FEC. We are confident that upon review, the Justice Department will see it that way, too.”

Strangely, Spano blamed the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump for the DOJ’s criminal probe.

“I continue to have doubts about the timing and motive behind this inquiry, as the impeachment proceedings this week have shown me how far the left will go to destroy their opponents,” Spano added. “I remain committed to the issues that are important to my constituents.”

Spano’s central Florida district is on Democrats’ target list next year, though it leans Republican. Spano defeated attorney Kristen Carlson by 6 points in 2018, and President Donald Trump carried the district by 10 points in 2016.

Steve Shepard contributed to this report.