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GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan Wins "Pig Award"

GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan—Winner of the Top 1% Tax Cut “Pig Award” July 18, 2018

Many attorneys I know often recalled their law school tax professors repeatedly giving them this good advice, “Whatever you do, even though it’s legal, don’t be a pig.” That comment is also applicable in the political world. Don’t go out and blatantly rub your good fortune in your constituents’ faces. Apparently, some Congressman never heard this saying or could care less about it. Exhibit A—FL GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan. “Florida Politics,” a state-focused political news outlet, reported that a recently filed financial disclosure showed that on 11/16/2017, Rep. Buchanan spent $1- $5 million purchasing an Ocean Alexander yacht. This purchase was Buchanan’s way of celebrating a “y uu ge” GOP “victory.” On that very same date, Cong. Buchanan joined 226 other House GOPers and no Democrats in voting for the top 1% tax cut bill. This legislation passed both congressional chambers on 12/20/2017 and fake populist Donald signed it on 12/22/2017 (floridapolitics.com, Wilson, “The Hill,” 7/11/18, Anapol, Anderson, heraldtribune.com, 7/11/18). Although Donald and his fellow GOPers pitched this bill as helping the middle class, it does so only minimally and temporarily, if at all. However, for the nation’s top 1% and corporations, it was a very magnanimous policy change. And one of the people benefiting “bigly” from this tax cut? Congressman Buchanan. According to a “Roll Call” report, Buchanan has a net worth of $73.9 million, making him the eighth wealthiest member of Congress and the wealthiest one from FL. “Tax March,” a progressive group, estimated that the bill would save Buchanan up to $2.1 million on his taxes (floridapolitics.com, Wilson). Democrats attacked Buchanan for this purchase. The FL Democratic Party suggested that Buchanan voted for the bill for personal interest. Buchanan happens to sit on the powerhouse House Ways and Means Committee which crafted this and all other tax legislation (“The Hill”, Anapol). IMHO, Cong. Buchanan has clearly won the 1% tax cut “Pig Award.” Who is Cong. Buchanan?

Sixth-term Congressman Vern Buchanan (67) currently represents Fl’s 16th Congressional District (CD). The FL 16th is centered on that state’s southwest coast. The 16th includes all of Sarasota County which accounts for just over half of its population. The remainder live in Manatee County to the north. The 16th takes in most of Manatee County. The cities of Sarasota, Bradenton, and Venice are in the 16th . The 16th has some wealthy cities on its barriers islands including Longboat Key, where Buchanan is from. Away from the coast, there are more working- class neighborhoods, especially in Manatee County. Tourism, retail, and health care are economic mainstays (Barone & CQ 14 Political Almanacs, Powers, floridapolitics.com, 10/28/17).

The FL 16th is a leisure-driven region full of well-off retirees and seasonal residents from the north. The 16th has one of the oldest and whitest populations in FL. Nearly 50% of its residents are over age 50 (Barone &CQ 14). For many years, the 16th was strongly GOP, and remains heavily “Red” in voter registration. In the 1990’s, this area trended toward the Democrats. After the 2010 redistricting, the 16th became more “Blue,” when it lost a pair of rural GOP counties and added some working-class neighborhoods. In 2008, McCain won here with only 51% of the vote. In 2012, however, Romney took 54% of the vote (CQ & Barone 14). In 2016, Donald beat Hillary here by 11 points (Pres. Election Results). The 4/07/17 Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gave the 16th an R+7 score.

Congressman Vern Buchanan’s “piggish” yacht purchase is not the first time he has received bad press. He has previously faced tough election contests because of business and financial problems. Detroit, MI native Buchanan grew up outside that city in Inkster, the son of a factory foreman. Buchanan joined the MI Air National Guard and worked his way through college as a martial arts instructor. He earned a business degree from Cleary University and an M.B.A. from the University of Detroit. In his early 20’s, Buchanan started American Speedy Printing Centers, which grew to about 750 outlets nationwide. In 1992, Buchanan resigned his last duties at that company, which entered bankruptcy. He has since paid millions of dollars to settle allegations of fraud and taking excessive compensation (CQ & Barone 14).

In 1990, Buchanan moved from MI to FL. In FL, he became “bigly” successful building an automobile dealership empire with franchises throughout the Southeast. Buchanan became active in GOP politics. He served as top fundraiser for Gov. Jeb Bush and GOP Sen. Mel Martinez. He became chair of the FL Chamber of Commerce and a top donor to the Republican National Committee. In 2006, Buchanan ran in a bruising five-way GOP primary for Congress. He won after spending $2 million. In the general election in that “Blue”-leaning year, Buchanan ran against Dem. Christine Jennings, also a transplanted Midwesterner. Despite the GOP advantage in this district, Buchanan was hurt by attacks on his business dealings. Buchanan spent over $8 million in the general election contest, including $5.5 million of his own money. Jennings also spent heavily. In this most expensive 2006 House race, Buchanan won by 369 votes out of nearly 240,000 cast (Barone & CQ 14).

After the Democrats had retaken the House, Buchanan voted for some “Team Blue” issues, including raising the minimum wage. However, he took a hardline stance on immigration and called for a law that would make English the official language. Former car dealer Buchanan voted against the key bailout of Detroit automakers in 2008 (Barone 14). In a 2008 rematch where he emphasized his “moderate” votes, Buchanan easily beat Jennings 56%-37%. Again, this contest was dominated by bitter accusations of fraud, slander, and campaign finance violations. In 2010, when the GOP took back the House, Buchanan dispatched another Democratic rival, getting more than 2/3 of the votes (Barone 14).

In 2011, Cong. Buchanan received additional unwanted attention for piggish behavior. The “Sarasota Herald -Tribune” reported that in 2010, Buchanan had spent almost $1 million in campaign contributions on himself, companies he owned, or family members. The article stated he had rented campaign office space for his own company and put family members on his payroll. Buchanan had previously faced allegations that business partners and employees of his car dealerships made contributions to his 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns and were then reimbursed by Buchanan’s companies. Buchanan denied any wrongdoing and said that the Federal Elections Committee (FEC) had exonerated him. However, in 12/2011, the “Herald-Tribune” unearthed FEC documents disputing Buchanan’s claim of exoneration. That paper reported that attorneys investigating the matter found Buchanan to be “less than credible and at times unbelievable.” In 2012, both the Justice Department and the House Ethics Committee were looking into Buchanan’s campaign-related activities. Democrats blasted the National Republican Congressional Committee, the group that finances and recruits “Team Red” congressional candidates, for keeping Buchanan on as its 2012 finance chairman.

In 2012, Cong. Buchanan’s seat appeared to be in jeopardy. His Democratic opponent, former state legislator Keith Fitzgerald, made Buchanan’s integrity his main campaign focus. Over the summer, the House Ethics Committee cleared Buchanan of wrongdoing. In 9/2012, Buchanan’s office announced that the Justice Department had concluded its probe without charging him. However, later that month, two of Cong. Buchanan’s associates pled guilty to illegally reimbursing employees who had made contributions to him. Buchanan said he had no knowledge of these reimbursements (Barone 14). If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you as well as the MacArthur Causeway connecting Miami to Miami Beach. The GOP composition of Buchanan’s district and Mitt Romney’s coattails there helped Buchanan. He outraised his opponent $2.2 million to $1.4 million. Buchanan accused Fitzgerald of helping direct $6 million to a college where he taught. Buchanan won by an 8% margin (Barone 14). In 2014 and 2016, Buchanan coasted to re-election by over 23 and 19 percentage points respectively (FL’s 16th Congressional District Elections).

Despite Buchanan’s early “moderate” stance on some votes, his record from 2008-2012 was a hard right one in the 88% range (CQ14). Although he supported fellow Floridian Jeb Bush for president in 2016, he quickly fell in line with Donald’s agenda. He has voted with Demagogue Donald’s positions 96.3% of the time (See projects fivethirtyeight.com, ballotpedia.com). He most often votes like GOP Bakersfield, CA Cong. Kevin McCarthy, the current House Majority Leader (“OpenCongress”). Besides his fervent support for the 1% tax cut, Buchanan backed Demagogue Donald’s anti-Muslim travel ban. He favored Trump’s executive order to bar funding to “sanctuary cities,” cities that will not turn over undocumented immigrants for deportation (washingtonpost.com, Blake, 1/31/17). Buchanan is anti-choice (Milbank, Wash. Post, 5/10/16). He is a lifetime NRA member. From 2010-2012, the NRA gave him $25,830 for his campaigns. Cong. Buchanan supported bills to expand concealed carrying and to allow veterans considered “mentally incompetent” to purchase ammunition and firearms (votesmart.org, Aaronson, fcir.org, 2/20/18, clerkhouse.gov, 3/06/17, 12/06/17). He has repeatedly voted to repeal Obamacare (healthreformvotes.org).

After his yacht purchase on the day that he voted for the anti-middle- class tax cut became public, the popular election handicapper Cook Political Report shifted Buchanan’s race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” This rating change is one step away from the “Toss Up” category and moves this race from the GOP toward “Team Blue. (See “The Hill,” Kamisar, 7/13/18).” Buchanan’s campaign manager lamely replied that “Vern has owned boats for more than 20 years (“The Hill,” 7/13/18).” Just like we all do. What a typical tone-deaf GOP response. The Fl primary will not take place until 8/2018. Attorney Jan Schneider, who lost to Buchanan in 2016, and David Shapiro, are the most well-known Democratic candidates (“The Hill,” 7/13/18). Siesta Key resident Shapiro (58) has practiced law in Sarasota for 32 years. He previously ran for the FL House of Representatives in 2006 when he lost a tight race by 2 points (flapolitics.com, Powers, 10/18/17).

Democrats believe Shapiro, who is already attacking Buchanan for his health care votes and anti-environmental stands, may be the candidate who can finally beat Buchanan. In the last quarter of 2017, Shapiro received more than 500 contributions totaling more than $250,000 (floridapolitics.com, Perry, 2/16/17). When news of Buchanan’s multi-million dollar yacht purchase became public, Shapiro tweeted, “we can’t let politicians enrich themselves at the expense of their constituents.” Shapiro criticized Buchanan for buying a multi-million dollar yacht on the day he voted to “give himself a $2.1 million windfall (@Shapiro4FL!6, 7/11/2018, 2:59 PM).”

Democrats have put the FL 16th on the “flip” to “Blue” target list (Perry, flapolitics.com, 2/16/18). Shapiro or any other Democrat will still have a tough time unseating self-funding millionaire Buchanan. Shapiro will need millions to level the playing field. The FL 16th’s GOP lean and Buchanan’s incumbency advantages will help him. Buchanan is already putting on TV ads that hide his party affiliation, ones that call him “bipartisan and effective, LOL (See flapolitics.com, Wilson).” Democrats must keep the GOP on defense in the 16th even if they don’t win. The more seats we put in play to win back the 23 seats we need to recapture the House, the better. Cong. Buchanan, with his yacht purchase on the very day of his tax cut vote, must be made the GOP poster-child for a party that cares only about Donald and his top 1% piggish buddies.