The House of Representatives’ Office of Congressional Ethics has launched a “preliminary” investigation into Rep. Vern Buchanan, R- Sarasota. Though the office can neither confirm nor deny ongoing investigations, a source tells The Florida Independent that at least two former Buchanan employees have been contacted as part of the investigation.
Per the Office of Congressional Ethics review process, “preliminary reviews” last 30 days and are initiated only after two board members (one appointed by the Speaker, one by the Minority Leader) have submitted written requests. Upon initiation, the office must inform the subject of the investigation. Buchanan’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
If the investigation is terminated within those 30 days, no public disclosure is required. Following the preliminary review, if there is “probable cause to believe [the] allegations,” three members can vote to initiate a second phase of review. Should the office find “substantial cause to believe allegations,” the case is referred to the standards committee for further review or dismissal and only made public under certain circumstances.
The preliminary review of Buchanan, says a source, began in late September and is yet another response to allegations that the Longboat Key Republican pressured employees into donating to his congressional campaigns, then reimbursed them with funds from one of his car dealerships.
Last December, the Federal Election Commission filed suit over a pattern of questionable contributions made to his 2006 and 2008 campaigns. Though Buchanan wasn’t named in the suit, his former business partner and a car dealership he once owned were accused of offering reimbursements for money donated to his campaign, and of violating excessive contribution laws. Though the FEC eventually deemed it an “extensive and ongoing scheme,” and fined his former dealership almost $68,000, Buchanan himself was never found to be at fault.
In August, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint asking the FBI to investigate Buchanan for “witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and bribery.” CREW also asked the House Office of Congressional Ethics to conduct an inquiry.
Venice retiree Donna Cubit-Swoyer also recently filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, requesting an investigation of Buchanan.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced that the Department of Justice had begun its own investigation into the allegations that Buchanan offered reimbursements for donations made to his campaigns. The DOJ has neither confirmed nor denied the investigation, but the Buchanan camp has said that the investigation was to be expected.
Buchanan is currently in his third term in Congress, and acts as a finance official at the National Republican Congressional Committee.
According to our source, who wishes to remain anonymous, the Office of Congressional Ethics has requested documents from some of Buchanan’s former business partners and employees, and is also in the process of conducting interviews with them, to collect information relevant to its review.