WASHINGTON -- The owner of a car dealership whose business relationship soured with Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said he has voicemails, emails and other proof the congressman would have reimbursed employees who donated to his campaign.
Sam Kazran, who partially owned Hyundai of North Jacksonville with Buchanan, said in court filings this week that he had been “caught in some political war to which he has no desire to be involved in.” And he appealed to the Federal Election Commission to pursue Buchanan for the campaign violations, not him.
The Federal Election Commission is asking a federal court to impose a $67,900 fine on the car dealership. The FEC said the company engaged in an “extensive and ongoing scheme” to reimburse employees who made contributions to the Sarasota Republican’s Congressional campaign, according to a complaint filed this spring in U.S. District Court in Florida.
Kazran fired back in court this week, saying in his response to the FEC suit that Buchanan warned him in a voicemail of consequences “should he choose to disclose his knowledge.”
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In earlier interviews, Kazran said he told the FEC he was unfamiliar with campaign finance law, and called himself “just a regular Joe.” He said Buchanan told a group he needed to raise $1 million “to look good.”
“It was, ‘This is what I need to do and this is what you need to do to take care of it,’ ” Kazran told the Herald in June.
Kazran’s filing comes as Buchanan has been mentioned as a potential Republican challenger next year to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Buchanan is not named as a defendant in the FEC suit against the dealership, and his campaign has said they brought the matter to the FEC’s attention two years earlier.
The FEC in May filed a motion saying Hyundai of North Jacksonville violated federal campaign finance law by making contributions in excess of the legal limit and by reimbursing employees who made the contributions.
Kazran said last month he has acknowledged the company reimbursed employees, but said it was a “directive” issued by Buchanan.
A spokeswoman for Buchanan’s campaign said Wednesday that the congressman’s former business partner is “desperate and disgruntled after being sued by Vern for failing to repay a $3 million business loan.”
“An FEC investigation determined that Kazran, not Vern, violated federal campaign finance laws,” Buchanan’s campaign spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts said in a statement. “The Buchanan campaign brought Kazran’s misconduct to the attention of the FEC nearly three years ago, so it is no wonder that he is now lashing out with false and ludicrous accusations.”
The FEC complaint says employees at the dealership -- which was partially owned by Buchanan from 2004 to 2008 -- contributed to his campaign between 2005 and 2007.
But the contributions, it states in the court documents, “were made by HNJ which reimbursed each individual for the funds she/he provided to the campaign.”
Federal law prohibits “undisclosed conduit contributions,” in which a donor conceals a contribution by funneling it through someone else.
The FEC says in 2005 and 2006, employees gave 24 contributions totaling $49,500 to Buchanan, and that in 2007 they made eight contributions totaling $18,400. Buchanan was first elected to Congress in 2006 and was re-elected in 2008 and 2010.
The FEC noted that in addition to being illegal reimbursements, the contributions also exceeded the company’s contribution limit, which would have been $4,200 in 2006 and $4,600 in 2008.
“HNJ illegally spent $67,900 in an attempt to influence an election for Congress, presumably believing this to be a worthwhile investment,” the FEC said.
It notes that when contributions are made in the names of others, “the true source of the contributions is intentionally sealed from the public, thereby thwarting the public’s informational and anti-corruption interests.”
The FEC is also asking the court for an injunction to prevent HNJ -- which is no longer operating -- from breaking the law again, arguing that it was “not a mere error or lapse in judgment.”