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House Ethics Committee to continue Buchanan investigation

The House Ethics Committee will continue its investigation into Rep. Vern Buchanan, with a focus on discrepancies in his income taxes and the financial disclosure forms he’s required to file as a congressman.

The committee said Monday in a statement that it would continue its investigation. It also noted that “the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.”

In a report also issued Monday, the Office of Congressional Ethics said it found “substantial reason to believe that Rep. Buchanan failed to disclose reportable positions and unearned income on his financial disclosure statements” for the years 2007-2010. Buchanan’s financial disclosure statements report an amount of unearned income that he received from certain companies that is inconsistent with the amount reported on federal income tax returns.

The OCE concluded that the Ethics Committee should further review the allegations. The OCE is an independent agency that collects and sometimes refers to the Ethics Committee complaints filed against members of the U.S. House. The OCE does not have jurisdiction on the case and the report does not reflect the Ethics Committee’s possible conclusions.

After the OCE began its review last year, Buchanan, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, amended his disclosure statements to address 17 reportable positions and income that had been omitted, according to the OCE report. Those included his connections with a land development company, an automobile dealership, a Buchanan family charity and a homeowners association.

The unreported income cited totaled about $15,000 over four years.

The OCE recommended the Ethics Committee consider whether Buchanan amended his filings in good faith.

“Today’s action by the House Committee on Ethics does not constitute any judgment on the merits,” said William McGinley, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Buchanan.

“Rather, the committee’s decision to take more time to review the matter reflects the committee’s heavy workload. The fact is that, in accordance with House rules, members commonly amend their financial disclosure statements. Congressman Buchanan followed the rules, and we are confident that, at the end of its deliberations, the committee will find no violation.”

An analysis by Roll Call magazine last year found that about 25 percent of financial disclosure reports filed by congressmen and senators have to be corrected because of errors, and 30 percent of House members in 2010 amended reports from prior years.

Other members of Congress who in the past have amended their financial disclosure reports include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Linda Sanchez, the ranking Democrat on the Ethics Committee; and in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama.

The OCE report does not say who filed the complaint against Buchanan, as that information is considered confidential.

Buchanan has been the target of separate Justice Department and Federal Election Commission investigations alleging that he improperly instructed a former business partner, Sam Kazran, to reimburse $67,900 to employees of a Jacksonville auto dealership they co-owned for contributions they made to Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns.

At first, FEC lawyers believed there was probable cause to pursue a case against Buchanan.

But those concerns were eventually outweighed by a continuing investigation that revealed numerous questions -- some of which Buchanan’s lawyers raised in the congressman’s defense -- about Kazran’s credibility. The investigation has since been closed.

-- Follow Marc Masferrer on Twitter @MRMasferrer.