Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, a self-made Florida millionaire, is only in his third term in Congress, but he already is in charge of fundraising for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, and he sits on the powerful House Ways and Means committee.
But all that could be jeopardized. Federal investigations underway could result in Buchanan serving his next term behind bars.
CNN has confirmed there are no fewer than four congressional and federal investigations into Buchanan’s business practices, his campaign finances and his alleged attempt to try to stop a witness from talking.
CNN’s report is pretty brutal. It not only includes an extensive interview with Buchanan’s former business partner, Sam Kazran, who explains at length the congressman’s allegedly illegal fundraising schemes, but also highlights the fact that the Republican is facing probes from the FBI, the IRS, and a congressional ethics committee. This comes after an FEC investigation that found “reason to believe” that Buchanan “knowingly and willfully violated” federal election laws, before the agency eventually pulled pack and imposed a modest fine.
When CNN sought comment from the Florida lawmaker, Buchanan ran away. That’s rarely a good sign.
Remember, Buchanan isn’t just some random backbencher – House Republicans tapped Buchanan to lead the party’s national fundraising efforts for 2012.
That federal law enforcement suspects the congressman may have engaged in some pretty serious wrongdoing related to his own fundraising makes him a rather unsettling choice.
As we’ve discussed before, the controversy isn’t especially complicated – the wealthy congressman, who owns a number of car dealerships throughout Florida, has been accused of using his business to illegally reimburse employees who donated to his campaigns. Kazran, Buchanan’s former business partner, has gone into quite a bit of detail explaining the congressman’s role in coming up with the money laundering scheme, and pressuring employees to go along.
At the center of Kazran’s allegations is a cash swap scheme used to finance some of Buchanan’s campaigns. He says employees were forced to write checks, then were reimbursed with cash drawn from Buchanan’s car dealerships.
“It was to a point where I said, ‘Chief, we can’t give you this kind of money. At which point he said, ‘Just run it through the corporation,’” Kazran said. “What he said to me was ‘Get people to write a check to the campaign and then pay them back through the corporation.’”
Kazran did, and he was soon calling in managers, salesman, even assistants. People who never gave money to campaigns were suddenly writing big checks to Buchanan for Congress and, according to Kazran, getting reimbursed from the dealership.
So far, other Republican leaders on the Hill have been indifferent to the corruption allegations. After vowing a “no tolerance” approach to member transgressions during the 2010 midterms, GOP officials remain entirely comfortable with Buchanan remaining in his leadership post within the caucus.
If, however, the congressman finds himself indicted in an election year, Boehner & Co. may end up regretting not acting sooner to distance the party from Buchanan’s burgeoning scandal.