Tuesday, January 17, 2012

FEC releases records in Vern Buchanan case

The Federal Elections Commission has posted on its website records documenting its recently concluded investigation of charges that U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan broke campaign finance laws and its decision to close the matter.

(To review the records, go here, check the box next to "Matters Under Review" and enter in the box next to "Case #" 6054)

Once again, the Buchanan campaign is claiming vindication.

“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," Buchanan's attorney William McGinley said in a statement issued Tuesday by the campaign.

"Based on its careful examination of the entire record, the commission voted 5-0 on a bipartisan basis – with three Democratic and two Republican commissioners – to dismiss the claims against Congressman Buchanan and his campaign and close the matter. 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.”

That the documents were released is significant, in that it means the FEC has officially closed its investigation.

Various types of documents were included in the release, but the most important ones may be several reports from the FEC general counsel's office that update progress in the investigation.

The FEC had been investigating since 2008 allegations that Buchanan had instructed a former business partner, Sam Kazran, to reimburse $67,900 to employees of a Jacksonville auto dealership they co-owned for contributions they made to Buchanan's 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns.

At first, FEC lawyers believed there was probable cause to pursue a case against Buchanan, in part because of questions they had about his credibility on certain "background issues."

But those concerns were eventually outweighed by a continuing investigation that revealed numerous questions -- some of which Buchanan's lawyers raised in the congressman's defense -- about Kazran's credibility.

"Given the concerns about Kazran's credibility and other gaps in the evidentiary record, the lack of direct support is significant," the general counsel's office wrote in a Jan. 25, 2011, report. "Further, the circumstantial evidence does not sufficiently corroborate Kazran's testimony to overcome our recent concerns with his credibility because in many cases, the evidence supports Buchanan's claims or is ambiguous.

A week later, on Feb. 1, the FEC's commissioners voted 5-0 to close the investigation.

Previously, FEC commissioners in June 2010 voted 4-1 to reject a separate complaint, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington alleging that employees at Buchanan-owned auto dealerships in Venice and Sarasota had been improperly reimbursed for a total of $5,000 in contributions made to Buchanan's 2006 congressional campaign.

The FEC document release includes a report from commission Vice Chair Caroline Hunter detailing how questions about the credibility of those making the allegations led to her voting to close the matter.

"While the circumstances of the contributions may seem suspicious, the documentary evidence failed to point conclusively in either direction," Hunter wrote.

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