The Federal Election Commission has fined three men and two Tampa companies a total of $16,000 for illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.
The FEC's case was prompted by a 2009 Tampa Bay Times story about contributions made in the name of Terry Keith Howell, a registered Democrat who was bankrupt when he gave $8,800 to Buchanan.
The money actually came from Howell's business partners in violation of a federal law that bans third-party contributions.
Howell "was concerned about the appearance of his contribution because Howell was a Democrat but was contributing to the Republicans at a time when he didn't have any money,'' according to a report by the FEC's general counsel.
During Buchanan's 2006 and 2008 campaigns, Howell was a partner in a trucking company with Tampa home builder Timothy Mobley, a longtime friend of Buchanan's, and Mobley's brother-in-law, Timothy Hohl. In testimony to the FEC, Howell said Mobley asked him to contribute to Buchanan, a member of the House transportation committee, because "the amount of favors he could do for us was enormous.''
Mobley and Hohl then gave Howell the money to use for his contributions through a chain of transfers that ended in Howell's personal bank account.
Under an agreement announced this week, Mobley and two of his companies will pay $10,000 in fines. Hohl will pay $5,000 and Howell $1,000.
Mobley and Hohl are on probation for criminal charges resulting from a larger scheme to make illegal donations to Buchanan, who faced stiff competition in his 2006 and 2008 campaigns.
In his testimony to the FEC, Howell said he was told by Mobley's son Marc that "when Buchanan needed to raise contributions, 'everybody pays and my dad pays back everyone.' ''
Buchanan, a millionaire car dealer, has repeatedly denied involvement in illegal fundraising. In an earlier investigation, the FEC took no action though its general counsel said it was "more likely than not" that Buchanan violated election laws and concluded that many aspects of his testimony were not credible.
In his own testimony, the bankrupt Howell described how a check in his name to Florida's Republican Party bounced twice, initiating a scramble to get enough money in his account to cover it.
"According to Howell, Mobley and Hohl were angry, and Mobley told Howell that 'We have to make this good to Vern.' ''
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com.