Long fed probe of Buchanan campaign ends with warning

Rep. Vern Buchanan speaks at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Courtyard by Marriott in Bradenton.
Rep. Vern Buchanan speaks at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Courtyard by Marriott in Bradenton. gjefferies@bradenton.com

The House Committee on Ethics has found insufficient evidence to conclude Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, conspired to reimburse employees for illegal campaign contributions or that he tried to influence the testimony of a former business partner in the case.

The committee cautioned Buchanan to “exercise more diligence over affairs related to his campaign.”

The decision issued Friday appears to end a long-running federal probe involving four different government entities and spanning nearly eight years.

The case began in August 2008 when citizens for responsibility and ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming employees at two of Buchanan’s car

dealerships were coerced into making contributions to his campaign committee and then reimbursed with company funds.

While those allegations were under investigation, the Office of Congressional Ethics began investigating Buchanan for allegedly trying to influence a former business partner, Sam Kazran, into signing a false affidavit related to the FEC probe.

The OCE referred the case to the Ethics Committee for further review.

Eventually, the Department of Justice would become involved in the case that spawned several civil cases in state court.

Buchanan prevailed in a civil suit with Kazran over the allegation he improperly influenced Kazran’s testimony.

The FEC probe ended in February 2011 with no action taken against Buchanan.

The Department of Justice investigation of similar allegations against Buchanan was closed in late 2012.

While the ethics committee investigation found insufficient evidence to take action against Buchanan, it concluded three Buchanan’s car dealerships “did, in fact, illegally reimburse their employees for contributions” to Buchanan’s campaigns. “However, the committee found that the evidence is insufficient to conclude that Rep. Buchanan himself was aware of the unlawful reimbursements when they were made, or had any role in directing or approving of them,” the commission report said.

The Buchanan office did not respond immediately to requests for comment.