Republicans stand by Vern Buchanan

at 12:55 PM ET, 02/24/2012

Three-term Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) is making headlines for his fundraising — and not in a good way.

A federal grand jury in Florida is looking at allegations that Buchanan, the vice chairman of finance for the National Republican Congressional Committee, broke the law by reimbursing donors to his political campaigns. FBI and IRS agents have contacted former employees of Buchanan’s car dealership network who allege financial wrongdoing.
Congressional candidate Vern Buchanan celebrates his win over Democrat Christine Jennings, in Sarasota, Fla., early Wednesday morning, Nov. 8, 2006. (ROB MATTSON - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The House Ethics Committee is already investigating Buchanan’s failure to disclose income and multiple financial interests and management positions in his disclosure statement.

A Federal Elections Commission lawsuit against a former Buchanan business partner was settled this week, with Sam Kazran agreeing that he engaged in “non-knowing and non-willful” violations of campaign finance law by reimbursing Buchanan donors. Kazran’s attorney said he was “just a pawn in a scheme devised by Vern Buchanan.”

The FEC voted 5 to 0 to close an investigation of Buchanan himself last year, citing serious misgivings about the reliability of key witnesses. But the latest news can hardly be welcome.

Another Florida Republican House member, David Rivera, faces federal and state probes into his finances and is now held at arm’s length by his party. But for now, at least, House Republicans are standing by Buchanan.

“Congressman Buchanan has been a valuable part of our success in raising the resources we need,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay. “This committee has always maintained a strict legal compliance with the letter and the spirit of the law.”

Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters chimed in. “Vern is probably one of the most respected elected officials in South West Florida,” he said. “I actually feel bad for Vern that as a result of his success and him trying to give of himself to the country, they’re trying to drag him through the mud.”

Buchanan’s lawyer, William McGinley, said it was no surprise that Republicans would continue to embrace his client.

"Congressman Buchanan continues to be an effective Finance Chair for the NRCC and a Member of Congress representing his constituents,” he said. “The FEC rejected these charges in a unanimous and bipartisan vote.  We are confident that the Department of Justice and Congress will reach the same conclusion.”

Democrats have recruited political science professor and former state lawmaker Keith Fitzgerald to challenge Buchanan, and he is on their “Red to Blue” list of top candidates.

“The chief fundraiser to preserve the Republican majority, Congressman Vern Buchanan, is under an expanding criminal investigation for a campaign finance scheme and we look forward to the FBI, Grand Jury and other legal authorities continuing their work,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson.

But the latest redistricting maps leave Buchanan’s Republican-heavy district largely intact. And of course, Buchanan has dramatically outraised his rival.

 
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