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Creative Loafing - Dems call on Vern Buchanan to resign from GOP campaign committee

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Dems call on Vern Buchanan to resign from GOP campaign committee

Posted by Mitch Perry on Wed, Jun 1, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Remember a few years ago, when there was all types of negative information flowing out of Sarasota regarding GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan amidst allegations of employees being forced to contribute to his campaign from his former dealerships?

Well, years after those allegations of bundling surfaced, the Federal Election Commission has finally acted - and they say Buchanan's company - but not the congressman himself - is guilty as charged- and they're calling on a federal court to impose a substantial fine to that company.

Not letting the opportunity go to waste, the Florida Democratic party now is calling on Buchanan to resign as Vice Chairman for Finance of the National Republican Congressional Committee in light of the Federal Elections Commission’s alleging in court documents that Buchanan benefited from an “extensive and ongoing scheme” to break campaign finance laws

The Miami Herald's Leslie Clark reports:

In a motion for default filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Florida, the FEC says Hyundai of North Jacksonville — which Buchanan once partially owned — violated federal campaign finance law by making contributions in excess of the legal limit and by reimbursing employees who made the contributions.

Buchanan is not named as a defendant in the suit. The owner of the company said Tuesday he has acknowledged the company reimbursed employees, but said it was a “directive” issued by Buchanan.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” said Sam Kazran, who said he told the FEC he was unfamiliar with campaign finance law. “I am not a politician, just a regular Joe. I had no idea.”

He said Buchanan told a group he needed to raise $1 million “to look good."

“It was ‘This is what I need to do and this is what you need to do to take care of it,'” Kazran told the Herald.

A campaign spokesman for Buchanan called Kazran's allegation "absolutely false."

"Sam is lashing out because he was slapped by a summary judgment today by the Hillsborough County Circuit Court for $624,000 related to a loan he failed to repay to Vern.”

Buchanan’s campaign said in a statement that the lawsuit is “an issue between the FEC and Hyundai of North Jacksonville, which Vern Buchanan has no interest or stake in.” The campaign had said in December, when the FEC filed the suit against Kazran, that it was Buchanan’s campaign that brought the matter to the FEC’s attention two years earlier.

The FEC complaint says employees at the dealership —- which was partially owned by Buchanan from 2004 to 2008 -— contributed to his campaign between 2005 and 2007.

But the contributions, it states in the court documents, “were made by HNJ which reimbursed each individual for the funds she/he provided to the campaign.”

Federal law prohibits “undisclosed conduit contributions,” in which a donor conceals a contribution by funneling it through someone else. The FEC says in 2005 and 2006, employees gave 24 contributions totaling $49,500 to Buchanan, and that in 2007 it made eight contributions totaling $18,400. Buchanan was first elected to Congress in 2006 and was re-elected in 2008 and 2010.

The FEC noted that in addition to being illegal reimbursements, the contributions also exceeded the company’s contribution limit, which would have been $4,200 in 2006 and $4,600 in 2008.

Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff eagerly bit into this bit of juicy news, saying:

“After being embroiled in an ‘extensive and ongoing scheme’ to break campaign finance rules, Congressman Vern Buchanan is the last person that should be running the finances for the National Republican Congressional Committee. It’s past time for Vern Buchanan to come clean about his role and for Republicans to live up to their promised a zero tolerance policy for Republican members caught in ethics scandals.”

Buchanan was elected to the Congressional District 13 seat in the Sarasota/Bradenton area in 2006, succeeding Katherine Harris in an extremely close race - a race where 18,000 ballots mysteriously were left blank when it came to the Jennings/Buchanan race.

But that seems longer ago than it really was. Buchanan won the seat easily in 2008, and again in 2010. He appeared on Morning Joe on Tuesday, and all seemed wonderful in his world.

It probably still is, but it does bring back memories of when life was a little tougher for the former car dealer. Like maybe two years ago, when there were no fewer than 14 lawsuits filed against him and his auto stores of what Susan Taylor Martin with the St. Pete Times called "shady practices."