Florida Republican Vern Buchanan’s campaign claims he was vindicated by the Federal Election Commission investigation into allegations he was involved with illegally reimbursing employees of his car dealerships for donations to his political campaign. But a review of the full FEC file on his case, posted on the FEC website, last week, paints a murkier picture.
For one, the FEC originally “found reason to believe” that Buchanan “knowingly and willfully” accepted excessive contributions as well as contributions routed through another person. A subsequent report by the FEC general counsel only found that there wasn’t sufficient available testimony or evidence to support the allegations and the commissioners voted to close the file on Feb. 1, 2011.
Reading between the lines of the FEC general counsel’s report, it also seems like the office took issue with the fact that many of the witnesses they interviewed were represented by the very same lawyers representing Buchanan’s best interest.
Melanie Sloan, the director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — the group which filed the complaint against Buchanan to begin with — certainly sees an issue.
“I think there’s a clear conflict, and I think it’s amazing that the commissioners didn’t notice,” Sloan told TPM.
Election law experts told TPM that it is relatively common for lawyers to represent multiple witnesses in the same case, especially in the early stages of an investigation.
Even with Buchanan’s lawyers representing some of the witnesses, that didn’t stop some inconsistencies. Buchanan testified that a treasurer for the campaign, Nancy Watkins, held a number of meetings to go through campaign finance rules, yet the FEC report noted that even though Watkins was represented by and accompanied by counsel for the Buchanan campaign during the interview, she stated that she didn’t instruct Buchanan or about campaign finance rules.
FEC member Caroline Hunter called the testimonial evidence “less than convincing” and said that those who went against Buchanan were not disinterested. She cited testimony from individuals represented by Buchanan’s lawyers as evidence who cast doubt on the allegations against him.
“It is a common adage in life that things aren’t always as they first appear,” Hunter wrote. “Events taken in isolation may seem suspicious at first blush, but when viewed in context, they take on a different light. Such was the case in this matter.”
The end of the FEC investigation, of course, didn’t mean the end of Buchanan’s legal troubles — he has ongoing FBI and House Ethics Committee to contend with.