WASHINGTON — Congressional ethics investigators concluded there "is substantial reason to believe" that Sarasota U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, one of the top Republicans in the House, violated ethics laws by failing to report his position with a half-dozen firms, according to records released Monday.
The disclosure of the findings from the Office of Congressional Ethics presents another political complication for Buchanan, who chairs Republican fundraising efforts in the House and is seeking to win a fourth term representing the Sarasota area.
Buchanan has also been dogged by a Federal Election Commission investigation of $90,000 in illegal straw donations to his campaign from employees of his car dealerships. Buchanan has claimed vindication in that probe, which was closed because of questions about the credibility of key witnesses.
The information about Buchanan's incomplete financial disclosures was released Monday by the House Committee on Ethics, which said it was extending its investigation "in order to gather additional information." The case was first referred to the panel in November.
The ethics office identified 17 positions that Buchanan failed to report between 2007 and 2010 at six entities, ranging from real-estate investment companies to his personal foundation. Buchanan amended his disclosures last year after ethics investigators confronted him about the missing information.
The entities named in the release were Boca Creek Development Co.; Bowling Green Dealership LLC; Country Club Shores and Country Club Shores II; Regent Court Association Inc.; and the Vernon G. and Sandra J.C. Buchanan Family Foundation Inc.
Aides to Buchanan say the missing information about the holdings was an innocent oversight commonly made by lawmakers with extensive financial holdings.
Buchanan's attorney, William J. McGinley of Patton Boggs, said the ethics panel's decision to take more time on the case "does not constitute any judgment on the merits."
"The fact is that, in accordance with House rules, Members commonly amend their financial disclosure statements," McGinley said in a statement. "Congressman Buchanan followed the rules, and we are confident that, at the end of its deliberations, the Committee will find no violation."
Buchanan faces an election challenge this year from Democrat Keith Fitzgerald of Sarasota, who could benefit from a revised legislative map that tilts Florida's 13th District in a more Democratic direction.