Congress

House Ethics Committee extends probe of Fla. Rep. Buchanan

The House Ethics Committee said it will extend its inquiry into Rep. Vern Buchanan’s fundraising activities, with a decision expected no later than Feb. 6.

The Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department have all probed Buchanan’s fundraising connections to the owner of a car dealership whose business relationship soured with the Republican congressman. Buchanan’s spokesman, Max Goodman, on Thursday called the Ethics Committee’s announcement “routine.”

“We are constructively engaged with the House Ethics Committee and are confident that the Committee will dismiss this matter,” he said. “Because of the confidential nature of these proceedings, we can have no further comment at this time.”

Buchanan, R-Sarasota, has long maintained that he was cleared of any fundraising wrongdoing by the Federal Election Commission. But documents released this week by the agency show it had doubts about Buchanan’s credibility on certain “background issues” related to its investigation of his campaign finances. They weren’t enough, though, to keep commissioners from voting unanimously to clear him of any wrongdoing.

In a final report on its investigation released this week, the FEC’s general counsel wrote that because of “significant concerns” about the credibility of Sam Kazran, Buchanan’s former business partner and chief accuser, it was recommending the FEC take no action against the congressman. The FEC had been investigating allegations that Buchanan had directed Kazran to improperly reimburse his employees for contributions they made to Buchanan’s congressional campaigns from 2005 to 2007.

In March 2010, the FEC found “reason to believe” Buchanan and his campaign had broken the law. But after Buchanan’s lawyers responded to what the FEC had learned, the case against the congressman appeared to have been undermined by doubts about Kazran.

“While there is some other evidence in the record that is consistent with Kazran’s general allegations, other evidence supports Buchanan’s denials or is ambiguous,” the final report said.

The FEC’s investigation may be complete, but Buchanan still faces the House Ethics Committee inquiry and a federal probe. Buchanan’s lawyers in October said they had been informed that the Justice Department had started a separate investigation of charges that Buchanan had broken campaign finance laws.

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