Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) claimed vindication Tuesday with the release of new documents from the Federal Election Commission, saying the agency found no evidence that he directed employees to be reimbursed for political donations.
The new FEC records provide fresh details about a 5 to 0 vote by the FEC to close its investigation of Buchanan because of serious misgivings about the reliability of key witnesses in the case.
“The documents released today show that the Federal Election Commission voted unanimously to clear Congressman Buchanan and his campaign of any wrongdoing after an exhaustive, multi-year investigation,” William McGinley, Buchanan’s attorney, said in a statement. “We are grateful that the public now can see for itself that the FEC’s three Democratic and two Republican Commissioners completely rejected these false and partisan allegations.”
Buchanan, who runs Republican fundraising operations in the House, has spent months defending himself against allegations connected to the FEC case. He is also under investigation by the House Committee on Ethics for alleged violations involving his financial disclosures, people with knowledge of the inquiry have said.
Records show that employees of three car dealerships controlled by Buchanan were unlawfully reimbursed for more than $90,000 in contributions to his campaign committee, Vern Buchanan for Congress. Federal election laws forbid using “straw donors” to evade contribution limits.
Buchanan and his lawyers say the Florida Republican was not aware of the reimbursements and never instructed employees to carry them out. The FEC concluded there was not enough evidence to move forward with a case against him, leading Buchanan’s campaign to declare last summer that he had been“exonerated.”
But another document released in December showed that the FEC’s acting general counsel had come “close to supporting a finding” against Buchanan, while also chiding the lawmaker for his “lack of recall” and “internally inconsistent” testimony in the case.
The records suggest that the case against Buchanan started out strong but fell apart over time amid growing concerns over the reliability of key witnesses.
In one September 2010 letter, released Tuesday, the FEC general counsel warned Buchanan’s lawyers that investigators had found there was reason to believe that the lawmaker had “knowingly and willfully violated” federal laws and was prepared to recommend action by the commission.
The new records suggest that FEC commissioners concluded that at least two of the key witnesses in the case were not credible, however. The agency also determined that employees who took part in the reimbursements did not realize they were breaking the law.
In addition, the FEC counsel wrote in one document, there was “no information that Buchanan was personally involved with these reimbursements.”