A report obtained by TPM Muckraker sheds lights on the FEC’s investigation into allegations about donations made to the 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns of Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Though Buchanan himself wasn’t named in the FEC lawsuit, a car dealership he once owned (Hyundai of North Jacksonville) and his former business partner (Sam Kazran) were. Buchanan has long maintained his innocence but, according to the FEC report, some of the congressman’s statements “didn’t seem credible.”
As first reported by The Florida Independent, the FEC charged that Kazran and the dealership violated campaign laws by using funds from the company “to reimburse [dealership] employees, Kazran’s business partners, their family members and Kazran’s relatives for $67,900 in contributions to Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 Congressional campaigns.”
The FEC also argued that Kazran violated contribution limits. During the 2006 election cycle, Hyundai of North Jacksonville contributed $49,500 to Vern Buchanan for Congress, in excess of the $2,100 per-election limit in effect for that cycle. During the 2008 election cycle, $18,400 of dealership funds went to Buchanan’s campaign, in excess of the $2,300 per-election limit for that cycle.
Though the campaign reimbursements occurred on Buchanan’s watch (he was, at the time, majority owner of the dealership), it was Kazran who was slapped with a nearly $68,000 fine in June 2011.
Kazran has long maintained that he was directed to reimburse the donations by Buchanan himself, but the Republican congressman states otherwise. In fact, Buchanan says that he is one who initially brought the reimbursements to the FEC’s attention and says he has since been “completely exonerated.”
Not quite, according to the FEC report obtained by TPM:
The FEC’s general counsel report finds that Buchanan’s “lack of recall” about an affidavit his lawyers asked his former business partner to sign “does not seem credible.”
“It is improbable that Buchanan’s attorneys drafted the affidavit and presented it to [Sam] Kazran without Buchanan’s involvement considering that (1) the affidavit did not concern the subject of the commercial negotiations, but rather Buchanan’s knowledge of reimbursed contributions to [Vern Buchanan Federal Campaign], and (2) it was presented to a former Buchanan partner who, according to respondents, was threatening to go to Buchanan’s political opponent or the Commission before the 2008 election with his allegation that Buchanan ordered him to reimburse contributions,” the report states.
Buchanan’s testimony, the FEC said, “is also internally inconsistent, contradicted by a statement in an interview of the former VBFC treasurer Nancy Watkins that she was unaware of any documents prepared for Buchanan’s business partners regarding campaign finance law, and not supported by the documents actually produced by the VBFC.”
According to the report, Buchanan told the FEC that he could not remember “one way or the other” if he asked Kazran to fundraise for the 2006 election. The FEC noted that there “is evidence that Buchanan did ask, and it raises legitimate questions as to Buchanan’s credibility that he could not admit this innocuous fact.” In its report, the FEC concluded that the evidence in the case “comes close to supporting a finding that it is more likely than not that” Buchanan violated the law, but that there were “significant concerns regarding the credibility” of Kazran.
The general counsel recommended that the FEC close the file.
A federal judge recently rejected the FEC’s motion to fine Kazran, allowing him the chance to demonstrate that Buchanan coerced him into making the contributions.