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House Ethics Panel Continues Investigation of Buchanan Disclosures

The House Ethics Committee announced today that while it will continue investigating whether Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) failed to report positions and income from outside organizations on his annual financial disclosure reports, it will do so without forming a formal investigative subcommittee.

The Ethics Committee first began reviewing whether Buchanan filed annual reports that left off income and officer and director positions after the case was referred from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics in November. Today’s announcement, which was accompanied by the release of a 336-page OCE report detailing the office’s findings, was triggered by a mandatory disclosure provision in the ethics review process. After the OCE recommends that the committee review a case, it has 90 days to either empanel an investigative subcommittee or release the office’s findings.

Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said today that the committee’s investigation of Buchanan will continue as a Rule 18(a) investigation, a preliminary inquiry that allows the panel to gather information until a formal subcommittee has been established. It is the final time the committee will be required to comment on the matter unless it decides to empanel a formal investigative subcommittee and hold a public ethics trial.

“The Committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgement on behalf of the Committee,” read the statement released by Bonner and Sánchez about the Buchanan case.

The OCE found during its review that Buchanan failed to disclose 17 positions that should have appeared on the annual financial disclosure forms that he filed with the Clerk of the House for the calendar years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Buchanan’s role at the property investment group Boca Creek Development Co., the car dealership Bowling Green Dealership, a liability company that manages a rental home in which Buchanan has a financial interest and a nonprofit homeowners association are among the organizations that the Florida Republican failed to disclose, according to the OCE report.

Buchanan told OCE investigators that the omissions were “inadvertent mistakes” and that a certified public accountant was entrusted with completing his annual disclosure statements. He said he reviews the forms “a little bit” but relies on staff to “handle all of the details.”

In mid-September, Buchanan amended four years’ worth of financial disclosures. It is unclear whether the Ethics Committee reviewed the amendments and decided to investigate further or whether it did not have time to complete its review before the OCE report was slated for release.

“Today’s action by the House Committee on Ethics does not constitute any judgment on the merits,” said Buchanan’s attorney, William McGinley of Patton Boggs. “Rather, the Committee’s decision to take more time to review the matter reflects the Committee’s heavy workload. … Members commonly amend their financial disclosure statements. Congressman Buchanan followed the rules, and we are confident that, at the end of its deliberations, the Committee will find no violation.”

Roll Call has previously reported that roughly one-fourth of all Members of Congress amend their financial disclosures at some point.

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