FROM:  Stephen Gaskill, Communications Director, Floridians for a Fair Shake

RE:  The Problem with Congressman Vern Buchanan

DATE:  October 30, 2018

Grassroots advocacy organization Floridians for a Fair Shake has been working in Florida’s 16th congressional district since April to hold Congressman Vern Buchanan accountable for his votes on taxes and health care. Our view is that his votes on these critical issues have directly harmed constituents in his district and as a result, he does not deserve reelection.

Vern Buchanan Is Serving Himself, Not His Constituents

As the Herald-Tribune and other outlets around the country have reported for months, Vern Buchanan helped write the Trump Tax law that provided him with a $2 million tax break. He voted in favor of the measure the same day he purchased a multimillion dollar yacht. Neither Buchanan nor his campaign have ever offered any rational explanation for his actions.

Investigative reporters later uncovered that Buchanan purchased the yacht with a loan from a foreign bank that heavily lobbied Congress in support of the tax bill. There are still unanswered questions about the terms of the loan that Congressman Buchanan received from a foreign bank to purchase his yacht, and what role Buchanan’s influence played in securing that loan. These stories have only raised further questions about Buchanan’s long history of ethical challenges throughout his congressional career and the ongoing erosion of trust between him and voters.

Congressman Buchanan has incorporated several LLCs at Sarasota Ford, which he once owned but is now managed by his son Matthew Buchanan, who is also listed as the agent of the LLCs. Buchanan has previously faced ethics complaints related to his car dealerships and positions at several firms. In 2011, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) investigated the illegal reimbursement of contributions to his campaign from employees of a car dealership he partly owned. In 2012, congressional ethics investigators found “substantial reason to believe” he violated ethics laws by failing to report his position at six entities, including a car dealership.

Many LLCs at which Vern Buchanan lists himself as a partner or managing member also serve as top contributors to his son James’ campaign for the Florida House.

A significant question never answered is, what is the relationship between Buchanan and his sons, and their LLCs and joint holdings?

Vern Buchanan is Never Around

The last district town hall Vern Buchanan hosted was March 18, 2017 — 591 days ago. His constituents were angry over health care, and the event was not a success for him. That, however, is not a reason to avoid meeting voters, especially in an election year where his constituents are demanding accountability for his actions. During the last congressional recess, September 15-24, Buchanan held no public events that we were able to find, and other than Republican Party and business-friendly appearances he hasn’t been seen around the district since the latest recess started in mid-October. He did, however, release new campaign ads.

One notable reason for his absence — in addition to the yacht story — is his vote to repeal health care. Buchanan supported the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which failed in the US Senate. That bill would have taken away health care for more than 2 million Floridians, including 64,000 of Buchanan’s own constituents. In addition, Buchanan has voted to strip protections for pre-existing conditions from 7.8 million Floridians, including more than 273,000 of his own constituents. Congressional Republicans have been sabotaging the ACA to make it weaker and less effective. The result has been an increase in the number of Florida’s uninsured (12.9% in 2017, up from 12.6% in 2016) which is higher than the national average of 8.8%. We assume that health care affordability is not an issue for Buchanan, as he’s one of the wealthiest members of Congress. But his constituents are paying more and getting less for their health care dollars as a direct consequence of his vote to undermine the ACA.

Vern Buchanan is not the first public official to go MIA when he’s under heightened scrutiny for his actions. But his absence is telling because of his perceived vulnerability. Since the yacht story broke, political prognosticators have moved the 16th CD away from a definitive Buchanan victory.

Vern Buchanan Claims Independence But is a Rubber Stamp for Trump

Buchanan’s ad campaign claims he’s an “independent leader,” but he votes with Donald Trump 96.5% of the time. As Trump’s unfavorable numbers continue to rise, Buchanan’s embrace of him, even in a conservative district, could become problematic. The energy and enthusiasm in this election is on the Democratic side, so it makes sense for Buchanan to claim independence. The facts and his votes, however, belie his election year ads. From health care to taxes, and a host of issues in between, Buchanan is a Trump crony.

Buchanan Doesn’t Deserve Reelection

Buchanan’s reputation far exceeds his on the job performance. He is ethically challenged, is out of touch with the needs of the district, and is not representing the people who need his help the most. Buchanan speaks to the wealthiest of his constituents, and votes their (and his) interests. That’s not good enough anymore.

I’m happy to discuss the issues raised in this memo, provide local residents with stories to tell, or reach out to our national partners for comment.

Stephen Gaskill