- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

The House Committee on Ethics has voted to extend an inquiry into an unspecified ethics allegation against Rep. Vern Buchanan, Florida Republican, the panel reported Thursday.

It’s unclear what the complaint against the third-term lawmaker involves because the Ethics Committee operates in secret, and no news has leaked about the exact details of the ethics inquiry yet

Rep. Jo Bonner, Alabama Republican, who chairs the committee, as well as its ranking member, Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat, announced the extension in a statement issued Thursday.

Mr. Bonner and Mrs. Sanchez said the committee has until Feb. 6 to announce its next step in the matter and noted that “the mere fact of a referral or an extension,” which is mandated by House rules, does not indicate that any violation has occurred or “reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.”

In recent months Mr. Buchanan has faced allegations that he violated campaign finance laws when his car dealerships illegally reimbursed its employees and business partners after they contributed to his re-election campaign.

In August, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the FBI to investigate Mr. Buchanan for reports of witness-tampering, obstruction of justice and bribery. The group based its complaint largely on the testimony of Sam Kazran, Mr. Buchanan’s former dealership partner. CREW also asked the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent board charged with making initial inquiries into accusations against House members, to look into the matter.

The OCE forwarded the matter to the ethics panel for consideration Nov. 8.

Mr. Kazran and several former members of Mr. Buchanan’s dealership, partners and employees who made contributions to his congressional campaigns were reimbursed with corporate funds. CREW, as well as two former employees of the car dealerships, filed a complaint with theFederal Election Commission in August 2008.

During the course of the inquiry, the Federal Election Commission questioned Mr. Kazran under oath. Mr. Kazran told the FEC that sometime after Mr. Buchanan launched his first campaign for Congress in 2005 and after Mr. Kazran had contributed the legal maximum to the campaign, Mr. Buchanan suggested he have others write checks to the campaign and reimburse them through the car dealerships.

Mr. Kazran’s relationship with Mr. Buchanan soured in June 2008, and the two ended up in litigation.