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Justice Department Probing Rep. Vern Buchanan

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

The Justice Department is investigating whether Rep. Vern Buchanan broke campaign finance laws by directing his former business partner to reimburse car dealership employees for contributions made to the Florida Republican’s Congressional campaigns.

The Justice Department probe, which the Bradenton Herald reported today, comes just months after the Federal Election Commission closed a related two-year examination. Buchanan’s campaign has said he had been cleared, but an FEC spokesman confirmed in June only that Buchanan’s lawyer had been notified that there would be “no further action” and that the FEC would “close the file as to Rep. Buchanan.”

“It has always been our expectation that the Justice Department would review the Federal Election Commission’s findings,” Buchanan’s campaign said in a statement today to the Herald. “The FEC carefully reviewed these politically motivated charges and concluded, based upon the factual record, that Vern did nothing wrong. We are confident that the Justice Department will reach the same conclusion and look forward to cooperating fully.”

The FEC had accused a Hyundai dealership in North Jacksonville that was once partially owned by Buchanan of breaking campaign finance limits by repaying employees for donations to Buchanan’s Congressional campaigns. After the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the issue to target Buchanan in a radio ad in June, Buchanan’s campaign released a February letter from the FEC saying it had closed the file “regarding allegations that he knowingly received contributions in the name of another and knowingly received excessive contributions.”

Buchanan’s legal team told the Herald that the Justice Department investigation will not only clear Buchanan of any wrongdoing but will also show that he was a victim of his former business associate, Sam Kazran, who has filed multiple lawsuits against the Florida lawmaker. Kazran’s suits accuse Buchanan of asking him to solicit contributions from the car dealership’s employees, and it was through this legal battle that the alleged contribution scheme became public.

“We have asked the Justice Department, as a central part of its review, to scrutinize the conduct of those who have tried to exploit the threat of spreading malicious falsehoods about Vern for personal financial gain,” Buchanan’s campaign said in its statement to the Herald.

Correction: Oct. 18, 2011

An earlier version of this story misstated the Federal Election Commission’s actions in its examination of Rep. Vern Buchanan. The FEC closed its file.

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