Ethics Clears Vern Buchanan’s Financial Disclosure Lapse

Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:42am

The House Ethics Committee said today it has closed one of its matters related to Rep. Vern Buchanan and would take no further action against the Florida Republican for omitting information on his annual financial disclosure forms.

An independent ethics office had asked the committee to review the matter after determining that Buchanan failed to disclose positions on his financial statements filed with the Clerk of the House for the calendar years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The committee concluded that the omissions were inadvertent and that the problem was solved when Buchanan amended his financial statements for those years in September of last year.

“The Committee has determined that Representative Buchanan did not accurately report all of the positions or ownership interests he held with several entities … and that he did not accurately report certain income received from those same entities,” the joint statement from Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said. “Representative Buchanan has now corrected the errors and omissions in his Financial Disclosure Statements by his subsequent amendments. Therefore, no further action by the Committee is warranted, and the Committee considers this matter closed.”

The announcement is a victory for Buchanan, who was elected in 2006 and represents a district in the southwest part of Florida that includes Sarasota and most of Bradenton. Had the committee decided to formally investigate the three-term lawmaker, it would have been a blow to House Republicans, as Buchanan also fundraises for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The review of Buchanan’s disclosures began in the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics in November. The office identified at least 17 positions Buchanan held at outside entities that had been left off of his disclosure forms, and it referred the case to the Ethics Committee for further review. 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 he failed to disclose, according to the OCE report.

The OCE is a fact-finding body that reviews allegations of wrongdoing within the House and refers its findings to the committee, which has the authority to determine whether a violation has occurred and to apply appropriate sanctions. The committee announced in February that it had decided to neither convene a formal subcommittee to investigate the matter nor to dismiss the case outright. The probe continued in a preliminary stage known as a Rule 18(a) review, which has now ended.

Buchanan has maintained since the start of the case that the omissions were “inadvertent mistakes.” He told OCE investigators that a certified public accountant was entrusted with completing his annual disclosure statements and that he reviewed the forms “a little bit” but relied on staff to “handle all of the details.”

As Roll Call has reported in the past — and as the Ethics Committee acknowledged in its statement — the annual financial statements filed by Members of Congress frequently contain errors or omissions and require amendment. A Roll Call review last May of filings with the Clerk of the House showed that at least three out of 10 House members had to amend their financial disclosure forms at a later date. The committee confirmed that between 30 percent and 50 percent of all statements reviewed contain errors or omissions.

“Buchanan said he was pleased with the committee’s action but not surprised, noting that many Congressmen and Senators routinely amend their reports due to inadvertent omissions,” according to a statement provided by his office.

The committee is also considering a second matter related to allegations that Buchanan offered almost $3 million to settle a series of legal disputes with a former business partner in exchange for him filing a false affidavit with the Federal Election Commission. That case was also referred from the OCE and the committee said in May that it would continue reviewing the referral as an 18(a) case, which is ongoing.