House Ethics Committee clears Rep. Vern Buchanan of charges he lied about finances

Committee says other members of Congress mistakenly omit information

Herald Washington BureauJuly 11, 2012 

WASHINGTON -- The House Ethics Committee has closed one of two inquiries into U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, saying the mistakes he made on personal financial disclosure forms weren't much different than the "hundreds or thousands" of similar errors they catch each year.

The only difference: In Buchanan's case, the errors were made public when the House Office of Congressional Ethics investigated Buchanan's conduct, instead of through the amendment process many officials use when they make mistakes on the forms.

The Ethics Committee examined Buchanan's disclosure filings after the separate Office of Congressional Ethics issued a report in February saying it found 17 positions that hadn't been disclosed by Buchanan, and more than $14,000 in income over four years that had not been properly reported.

Buchanan, who has denied wrongdoing, later amended the reports, saying the omissions were the result of "oversights."

"The committee found no evidence that the errors were knowing or willful and unanimously determined that the errors were not substantively different from the hundreds or thousands of errors corrected by amendment at the requirement of the committee every year," the committee said in a press release. Buchanan corrected the errors and omissions when they were brought to his attention, the committee said.

But the Ethics Committee also cautioned that members of Congress have a duty to comply with disclosure laws.

"Representative Buchanan, as well as other Members and employees of the House, should understand that accurate and complete reporting on financial disclosure statements should be every filer's goal and is necessary to be in compliance with House Rules and federal law," the full report noted.

Buchanan, who is locked in an increasingly heated battle against Democrat Keith Fitzgerald for re-election to a fourth term, said in a statement he was pleased with the committee's action "but not surprised" since many members of Congress routinely amend their disclosure filings.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group that originally reported the financial omission, said it was "unfathomable" that the Ethics Committee would clear Buchanan.

"Rep. Buchanan has a well-documented history of lying to avoid accountability," Sloan said in a statement. "Nevertheless, the Ethics Committee just takes this proven liar at his word when he declares the errors were inadvertent."

Sloan said it was no defense that other members of Congress file reports that are later found to have errors.

The Ethics Committee's action Tuesday is a small victory for Buchanan, even as complaints about his political and business practices mount. It doesn't end a separate and much more serious Ethics Committee matter still under review.

The Ethics Committee was careful to note in its full report that their findings Tuesday concerning Buchanan's disclosure forms had nothing to do with a separate investigation forwarded on by the Office of Congressional Ethics. That probe focuses on Buchanan's conduct during a Federal Election Commission investigation into the congressman's fundraising practices.

The committee continues to review whether Buchanan attempted to influence the testimony of a former business partner, Sam Kazran, who was a witness during the FEC investigation into the congressman's fundraising. The Office of Congressional Ethics found in May there is "substantial reason to believe" Buchanan attempted to influence Kazran's testimony when Kazran was a witness during the FEC investigation by making the settlement of their business dispute contingent on Kazran signing an affidavit he said was untrue.

Buchanan has long attacked his former business partner's credibility. During a Federal Elections Commission investigation, Kazran admitted that he reimbursed employees of the car dealership who had contributed to Buchanan's campaigns.

The FEC closed its investigation without taking action against Buchanan. Buchanan, who heads national fund-raising efforts for House Republicans, remains under investigation by the Justice Department and the IRS.

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