January 18, 2012

What Does a Politician Have to do to Get Punished Around Here?

By CREW Staff

Vern BuchananRecently released Federal Election Commission (FEC) records are shedding light on the FEC’s investigation into wrongdoing by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), as well as on the ineffective agency’s own constantly shifting standards.

Rep. Buchanan claims the documents show the FEC cleared him of wrongdoing, and show the allegations that he improperly reimbursed employees for campaign contributions are false.  Perhaps he hasn’t read them.  The FEC seems to have found a whole lot of evidence. 

For example, Salvatore Rosa, the financial controller of Rep. Buchanan's companies, testified that Rep. Buchanan asked him to help ensure an employee received a reimbursement for a political contribution as far back as the early 2000s.  Mr. Rosa testified that he told Rep. Buchanan that such reimbursements were illegal.  Rep. Buchanan replied, “Finesse it,” according to Mr. Rosa.  Rep. Buchanan apparently denied having the conversation at all, according to the FEC general counsel’s report.  Later, Rep. Buchanan’s lawyer told the FEC “that the phrase ‘finesse it’ could be interpreted in different ways and that Buchanan might interpret such a statement differently than Rosa did.”  In a sentence that speaks volumes, the FEC general counsel dryly noted “Respondents did not offer any examples of alternative interpretations.”  Here’s hoping one of the other entities investigating Rep. Buchanan – the House Ethics Committee or the Department of Justice – follows up and asks for some of those alternative interpretations.  We can’t think of any. 

The Buchanan case again raises what has become a recurring question for the FEC: What exactly does a politician have to do to get punished around here?  The answer isn’t clear.  Meanwhile, offenders can continue to violate campaign finance law without consequence. 

Cases like Rep. Buchanan’s are why CREW and a coalition of other groups have started a petition asking President Obama to fix the FEC by nominating new commissioners who will uphold campaign finance laws.  Five of the six commissioners are serving despite expired terms – a situation the president can do something about.  Click here to sign our petition, or go to our website to learn more about the campaign. 

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