Highlights of the Congressional Ethics report on Vern Buchanan

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota / VIA FACEBOOK

The U.S. House Committee on Ethics yesterday announced that it will be taking more time to “further review” allegations that U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, pressured a former business partner to sign a false affidavit intended to be filed with the Federal Election Commission, and by doing so “may have violated” federal law.

In concert with the announcement, the Ethics Committee released a lengthy report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, documenting the charges against Buchanan. On Jan. 27, based on the evidence it had compiled, the Office voted unanimously to recommend that the Ethics Committee review the allegations.

The May 9 announcement is the latest action in the ongoing saga of Sam Kazran, a former Buchanan business partner who has accused the congressman of pressuring him to reimburse employees at a car dealership, which the two co-owned, for contributions to Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 campaigns.

The FEC targeted Kazran for the reimbursements in a lawsuit filed in December 2010, but Kazran has long maintained that Buchanan orchestrated the scheme. In an FEC deposition dated Nov. 6, 2009, Kazran claimed that Buchanan offered to settle a business dispute between the two for $2.9 million, if Kazran signed an affidavit stating that neither he nor Buchanan was aware of contribution reimbursements for employees before September 2008, and authorizing Buchanan to file the affidavit with the FEC.

Kazran never signed the affidavit. According to the Office of Congressional Ethics report, “contrary to” the affidavit, Kazran was aware of the reimbursements as early as 2005, and Buchanan was aware of the scheme “no later than September 8, 2008.”

“There is substantial reason to believe that” Buchanan knew “at the time he made the settlement agreement contingent on the affidavit that” a portion “of the affidavit was false,” the Office concluded.

The report also includes testimony that Buchanan not only knew about the reimbursements, but that he personally orchestrated the plan.

According to witnesses, the Office wrote, “Buchanan intended to have individuals reimbursed for campaign contributions” as far back as late 2005 or early 2006. The Office report collects anecdotal evidence that Buchanan directed the reimbursement plan, evidence that contradicts the claims in the affidavit Buchanan wanted Kazran to sign.

“Representative Buchanan’s former business partner claims that Representative Buchanan made a $2.9 million settlement agreement contingent on Former Business Parnter signing a false affidavit. The affidavit was to be filed with the FEC,” the Office concluded. “If  Representative Buchanan attempted to influence the testimony of an individual in proceedings before the FEC, he may have violated federal law and House rules.”

The Office added that there is “substantial reason to believe” that Buchanan violated federal laws against bribing witnessesobstructing proceedings and tampering with witnesses.

Buchanan himself did not participate in the Office investigation, declining to be interviewed. The Office recommended issuing subpoenas to Buchanan and others. In addition to his role in Congress, Buchanan serves as the finance vice chairman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the chief organization behind the Republican Party’s efforts to maintain its House majority this fall.

Read or download the full Office of Congressional Ethics report here.