A political action committee known for its “Impeachment Now” billboard near Mar-a-Lago aimed at President Donald Trump has chosen a new target: U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.
Wedged between a Longhorn Steakhouse restaurant and a pawn shop, drivers heading north on 14th Street West in Bradenton will see Mad Dog PAC’s call to “vote him out.”
The goal of the PAC, which formed late last year and has raised $7,000, is a billboard campaign to “make an impact” on the 2018 midterm elections in November, said its treasurer J. Dirk Schwenk. Speaking by phone Wednesday, the Annapolis, Md.-based lawyer confirmed the Buchanan billboard was theirs.
Schwenk said the committee has funded six billboards in Florida — one in Lake City shows a DUI mugshot of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, according to its website, and others about the president, Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and the National Rifle Association.
“(Buchanan is) targeted because he’s closely affiliated with the Trump agenda,” Schwenk said.
The billboard includes a checklist of “obstruction of justice,” “witness tampering” and “bribery,” resurfacing ethics complaints that haunted Buchanan several years ago. Buchanan has since been cleared of the allegations.
In 2008, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that employees of two of Buchanan’s auto dealerships had been forced to donate to his campaign, with the dealerships then paying employees back with company funds.
The Office of Congressional Ethics also investigated claims that Buchanan tried to force his former business partner Sam Kazran, who co-owned a Jacksonville car dealership with Buchanan, into signing a false FEC affidavit that Buchanan did not have anything to do with the alleged laundering.
In a countersuit against Kazran, Buchanan said that he had loaned his former business partner $2.5 million, which he didn’t pay back. Kazran had claimed the business dispute should be settled with the false affidavit. The judge ruled in Buchanan’s favor and he was awarded a $6.4 million judgment.
Attorneys representing Buchanan at the time said that Tallahassee lawyer Doug Lyons had tried to extort $43 million to silence claims that Buchanan was guilty of “campaign fraud, tax fraud and immigration violations and stated he should not run for re-election.” Lyons had also filed 11 lawsuits against Buchanan in 2008.
Though he denied trying to extort Buchanan, saying that that involves threats to report someone to the authorities, Lyons was found guilty by the Florida Supreme Court for mailing unsolicited advertisements without a disclaimer to customers of Buchanan’s car dealerships.
Kazran pleaded guilty to reimbursing employees $67,900 for donations made to Buchanan’s campaigns in 2006 and 2008 with funds from the Jacksonville dealership. A Tampa real estate developer also pleaded guilty for a similar scheme, after which Buchanan’s campaign said it would turn over the $84,000 to the U.S. Treasury.
The investigations by FEC and the U.S. Department of Justice against Buchanan were eventually closed without any charges filed. The Office of Congressional Ethics sent the case to the House Ethics Committee for review, but in 2016 the committee found there was not sufficient evidence that Buchanan had been involved in the campaign contribution scheme or had tried to make Kazran sign the affidavit.
Max Goodman, Buchanan’s campaign manager, said he had personally received a few phone calls about the billboard.
“We got a few compliments from people who couldn’t read all the text but liked the picture,” Goodman said in a text message to the Bradenton Herald. “And we didn’t even have to pay for it.”