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Dennis Ross: a "zombie"-in-waiting, as Florida congressman won't shut campaign account down

The Polk/Hillsborough Congressman says he has no plans to close down his campaign account, even though he's done campaigning, opening the door for him to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Credit: U.S . Rep. Dennis Ross
U.S . Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, tweeted that he would not seek re-election in 2018.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. -- He’s a Zombie-in-Waiting. A ZIW.

Or maybe a Zombie-in-Training, a ZIT.

But regardless of anagram, Congressman Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland) tells 10Investigates he has no plans to close down his campaign account now that he is done campaigning, assuring "Friends of Dennis Ross" a future spot on the not-so-illustrious list of “Zombie Campaigns," owned by candidates who keep campaign accounts open to use as personal slush funds after retiring from office.

READ: 10News/Tampa Bay Times Zombie Campaign investigation

Ross announced Wednesday he would not seek re-election to his Congressional seat that stretches across largely-conservative swaths of several West/Central Florida counties, including Polk and Hillsborough.

But after saying his decision was not based on district competitiveness and touting a strong first quarter of fundraising, Ross told 10Investigates he plans to keep his campaign active so he can use it to fund other conservative candidates and causes.

At the end of 2017, Ross’ campaign reported $279,976 on-hand in its regular filing to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). His first-quarter 2018 report is due this month.

"I will probably (use the money to) continue to supported like-minded candidates in Congress," Ross told 10Investigates. "I might try to invest some in education programs that deal with civics and the teaching of the political process, whether it be at the college level or the high school level."

When candidates leave office, the FEC suggests they take no more than six months to wind down their campaign affairs. Leftover funds can be donated to charity, established political committees, or returned to donors.

But there is no actual requirement at the moment for candidates to close down their accounts, leaving a monster loophole for them to continue to spend old donations on things that benefit their new, post-Congressional lifestyle.

In some cases exposed by 10Investigates and the Tampa Bay Times, more than 100 former Congressmembers were spending old campaign donations on things like political activism, travel, expensive meals, posh social memberships, tickets to sporting events, paying salaries to family members, and subsidizing their lobbying careers.

The FEC has agreed to review its rules following the 10Investigates/Times investigation and is currently soliciting public comment on whether the loophole should be addressed.

You can add your comments to the FEC here.

Ross said he looks forward to getting back to his law practice in Lakeland and has no intention of getting into lobbying. But he plans on remaining active in national politics, using leftover funds to further "conservative principles."

Ross' campaign has been in 10Investigates' crosshairs before, for paying his wife's company more than $17,000 from 2012 to 2013 to fundraise. He agreed to an interview at the time and explained his wife acted as his chief Florida fundraiser, compensated less than he used to pay professional fundraisers.

“Transparency is everything,” Ross said at the time.

But when 10Investigates and the Times reached out to local Congressmembers in January and February about the Zombie Campaigns investigation, Ross failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.

Find 10Investigates' Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips confidentially to npransky@wtsp.com.

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