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Herald-Tribune - Donation charges dog Buchanan

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By Jeremy Wallace
H-T Political Writer
 

Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.
 

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, still has not shaken allegations that he benefitted from illegal campaign donations to win election to Congress in 2006 and 2008.

On Friday the Federal Election Commission filed a motion in federal court seeking $67,900 in fines from a former business partner of Buchanan's for violating campaign finance laws to support Buchanan's first two campaigns.

The motion filed in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville accuses Sam Kazran of reimbursing employees of Hyundai of North Jacksonville for making donations of as much as $2,300 each to Buchanan's 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns.

Kazran and Buchanan were partners in Hyundai of North Jacksonville from 2004 to 2008 when the donations were made.

Buchanan was not named as a defendant in the suit, which the FEC first filed in December. Friday's filing marked the first time the FEC has said how big of a civil penalty they would seek against Kazran.

The case follows lawsuits by other former Buchanan employees who said they were pressured to donate and were reimbursed for contributions -- both violations of campaign finance laws. Buchanan has denied those charges too.

None of those cases, filed in 2008, have gone to trial.

By funneling donations through employees of Hyundai of North Jacksonville, FEC attorneys said Kazran was able to give Buchanan far more money in contributions for his campaigns than he would otherwise have been allowed.

Kazran would have been limited to donating $4,200 in 2006 to Buchanan's primary and general election campaigns and $4,600 in the 2008 primary and general election.

But by having employees donate Kazran was able to give $49,500 more to Buchanan's 2006 campaign and $18,400 more in 2008.

Buchanan won his first campaign in 2006 by 369 votes over Democrat Christine Jennings.

Kazran told the Miami Herald that he did reimburse employees at the Hyundai dealership, but did so at Buchanan's direction, a charge Buchanan's campaign denied.

"This is absolutely false," a statement from Buchanan's campaign stated.

Buchanan's campaign filed the initial complaint with the FEC alleging Kazran had violated the campaign finance laws by reimbursing employees for donations. Kazran and Buchanan have been feuding over a loan of about $400,000 Buchanan gave Kazran that Buchanan says was not paid back.

Buchanan sued Kazran and on Tuesday was awarded $624,000 in a Hillsborough County court.

Jeremy Wallace can be reached at 361-4966 or jeremy.wallace @heraldtribune.com.