WASHINGTON -- A congressional ethics panel has concluded there is substantial reason to believe Rep. Vern Buchanan tried to get a former business partner to lie to the Federal Election Commission in violation of federal law and a House rule.
Evidence shows Buchanan, a Florida Republican who owns several auto dealerships, tried to persuade ex-partner Sam Kazran to deny he was aware of reimbursements made to Buchanan contributors, according to the report made public Wednesday.
Kazran refused to make the false statement to the FEC, the report said.
The 6-0 vote in January by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is run by a board that does not include members of Congress, sent the case to the member-run House Ethics Committee. The ethics committee said Wednesday its investigation was continuing, but made the report public in accordance with House rules.
Buchanan spokesman Max Goodman said in a statement that "there is absolutely nothing new in this report. Every allegation was painstakingly reviewed and unequivocally rejected by the FEC." Goodman called the report "a disgrace" that "relies exclusively on the contradictory testimony of one unreliable and thoroughly discredited witness" – the ex-partner.
It is illegal to reimburse contributors to federal campaigns and to attempt to influence a witness before the FEC or other federal agencies. In addition, House rules require members to behave in a manner that reflects creditably on the legislative body.
The report said the former partner, Kazran, alleged that Buchanan, now in his third term, tried to make a settlement agreement in a legal dispute contingent on the ex-associate's willingness to make the false assertion.
The ex-partner estimated the total amount of reimbursements was approximately $100,000, and said he directed his employees to make contributions between 2005 and 2007.
On Sept. 8, 2008, Kazran sent the president of Buchanan's company an email that included attachments of copies of checks that the former partner said were reimbursed.
The report said a voicemail left by Buchanan to his ex-partner shows the congressman was aware of the reimbursement allegations.
"I think the threatening of political stuff and all that you got more liability than you know if you start telling people that you reimbursed people because technically you have the liability," the voicemail said.
Buchanan's lawyers, in a response to the Office of Congressional Ethics, said the OCE left out the part of the message that exonerates their client.
They said the remainder of Buchanan's message was: "All I've told you, and I've always made it clear, is that you can't reimburse people. They've got to give it on their own free will. You've known that."