The Federal Election Commission has closed its case against U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan and will take no action against the Sarasota Republican over allegations he knowingly accepted illegal campaign contributions.
However, "this matter is still open with respect to other respondents,'' the FEC said, which means that Buchanan's campaign committee and some of his car dealerships could still be subject to action.
In 2008, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, and Carlo Bell, former finance manager for Buchanan's Venice Nissan Dodge, filed a complaint alleging that Bell and other employees had been illegally reimbursed in 2005 for contributing $1,000 each to Buchanan's first congressional campaign.
The FEC's investigation broadened to include allegations that employees of a Jacksonville dealership in which Buchanan was then part owner also were improperly reimbursed.
The commission notified Buchanan in April 2010 that it had found "reason to believe'' he had violated federal law that bans candidates from knowingly receiving contributions made in someone else's name. But in letters dated Feb. 7 and March 1, the commission said it would take no further action and would "close the file in this matter as to Rep. Buchanan.''
Buchanan's campaign committee — which released the letters Monday with FEC permission — called the letters a "vindication'' and proved that "the Democrats' partisan attacks have backfired.'' The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently began running radio ads against the third-term representative, whose district includes part of Manatee County.
However, the FEC has not yet closed its investigation into the allegations. In October, Buchanan's campaign committee quietly refunded $5,000 in contributions not to Bell and other Nissan Dodge employees but to the Treasury Department, as required when contributions are thought to be illegal.
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at [email protected]