James Buchanan, son of US Congressman Vern Buchanan, is running in the Florida State House district 72 special election on February 13. This race is drawing an unusual amount of attention for a state house election. As expectations grow of a coming ‘blue wave’ in November, the national media wants to see if a Republican candidate can hang onto this longtime-red seat.
Buchanan has faced a fair amount of criticism. He has drawn fire for dodging debates with the other candidates (a position now reversed), some question whether he actually lives in the district he aspires to represent, and he is frequently accused of using his father’s name and influence to help him win the election. When asked about his father Vern Buchanan in a recent interview with SNN’s Grant Boxleitner, he said, “I’m proud that he’s my father and I’m not riding on his coattails.”
This is a statement James Buchanan’s opponents, Democrat Margaret Good and Libertarian Alison Foxall, might quibble with. After all, running for a state house district inside your father’s US House of Representative’s district is bound to help with name recognition if nothing else.
But even if as he claims James Buchanan is not getting help from his father politically, he does appear to be getting some help in other areas of his life from someone.
James Buchanan’s amazing mortgages
On his September 17, 2017 “Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interests” form (required by all candidates and available to the public on the Florida Department of State website) Mr Buchanan lists two mortgage liabilities with a combined total of over $1 million.
That is much, much larger than the average home loan in Florida. But James Buchanan is an established and successful realtor, so perhaps his personal real estate holdings would naturally be more extensive than that of the average Floridian. What is truly surprising, however, is James Buchanan’s income according to this same September 2017 disclosure of financial interests. According to that filing James Buchanan has secured these massive mortgages with a 2016 income from his realty company of just $22,712!
Just to put that in context, if James Buchanan was sole earner for his family of three, his 2016 company salary would put him just above the Federal Poverty line that year of $20,160. Most people sitting just above the poverty line could struggle to get any mortgage, let alone two with a combined value of over $1 million!
To be fair to James Buchanan, he did declare a net worth of $1,235,150 in his first filing, and then a house sale of $164,053 during 2016 in a second amended filing. But still, the $22,712 income (which was from his company, James Buchanan Realty) seems incredibly low for someone to be able to successfully pay off such large mortgages.
No doubt the first question many Sarasota voters will be asking themselves, “How did someone with such relatively small earnings secure $1 million in mortgage loans?” And the second question will undoubtedly be: “Which mortgage company did he use? Because I want to get a mortgage from them too!”
Jamatt Properties LLC & Orange Park LLC
Unfortunately for Sarasotans, the companies that James Buchanan owes mortgages to do not appear to be open to business from the public. Both companies are Sarasota-based, Florida registered corporations: Jamatt Properties LLC and Orange Park LLC.
James Buchanan owes one mortgage to each corporation: one for $800,000 (owed to Jamatt Properties LLC), and the second for $232,610 (owed to Orange Park LLC). Combined they come to a total of £1,032,610 – over 45 times James Buchanan’s 2016 salary.
Neither of these companies has much of a public profile, but they do have a lot in common. In fact, they actually share the same registered address: 707 S Washington Blvd. in Sarasota.
That address is the first clue for figuring out how James Buchanan might have secured two such large mortgages. 707 S Washington Blvd. is also the address of Sarasota Ford, a well-known local car dealership. The owner of Sarasota Ford is someone James knows well – his brother Matthew Buchanan.
The second thing these two companies have in common are the people who run them.
According to documents available on the Florida Division of Corporations website the corporate officers of both companies include Sandra Buchanan (James Buchanan’s mother), and James Buchanan himself (as Vice President). James’ brother Matthew is the registered agent for both corporations. And finally, Congressman Vern Buchanan (James and Matthew’s father) is also a corporate officer for Jamatt Properties LLC.
It is impossible to say exactly how Jamatt Properties LLC or Orange Park LLC came to the decision to lend James Buchanan a combined $1 million in mortgages. They probably considered a wide range of factors. But the fact that James serves as Vice President, and that everyone else running these corporations except the treasurer is a close relation, probably helped.
More about Jamatt Properties LLC
Normally it would be very difficult to get much information about the assets of a Florida registered LLC. As Congressman Vern Buchanan has interests in both companies, however, there is a fair amount of information in the public domain thanks to his Federal candidate disclosure forms.
Under Jamatt Properties LLC, for example, Vern Buchanan declares on his 2016 Financial Disclosure Statement (also available from the Florida Department of State website) a real estate asset at 50 Central Ave, Sarasota – aka the Plaza at Five Points – worth between $5-$25 million. That same property is also listed as providing income in 2016 in rent and interest of between $1-5 million.
Jamatt Properties LLC is also declared to own real estate in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, land in Murray, Kentucky, a dry-dock boat condo on Longboat Key, stocks in two Florida banks, and another company called Sarasota-Bradenton Aviation, Inc.
Orange Park LLC’s listed assets include another LLC (Boca Creek Development LLC) and a mortgage lent on a Mill Creek, Tampa property valued at between $100,000 – $250,000 (possibly the mortgage of $232,610 owed to the corporation by its Vice President, James Buchanan).
Back to James Buchanan’s public disclosure of finances
If James Buchanan is the vice president of these two Florida corporations, one might wonder why he did not mention this on his public disclosure of finances.
The reason, most likely, is he did not have to.
According to the instructions that come with the Florida public disclosure of finances form, if James Buchanan owns less than 5% of the stock of Jamatt Properties LLC or Orange Park LLC he would not have to declare either as an asset. And if he earned less than $1,000 from each company in 2016 he would not be required to declare it as income.
Presumably therefore, as they are not listed, James Buchanan serves as vice president but has a very small stake in either company (or none at all) and earns little or nothing from his involvement.
There is one other section of James Buchanan’s filing that is worth perusing.
Part E of the public disclosure of finances form asks candidates to list “interests in specified businesses.” The types of businesses specified include cemetery companies, alcoholic beverage licensees, pari-mutuel wagering companies, and mortgage companies.
Candidates are asked to declare these interests if they own more than 5% of the specified businesses, or if they were at any time in 2016 a company officer (or proprietor, parter, director, or agent).
James Buchanan left Part E entirely blank on both his original filing, and his amended filing.
We know that James Buchanan was an officer of both corporations during 2016, and we know that James Buchanan has an outstanding mortgage with both corporations. We also know that Orange Park LLC counts a mortgage of up to $250,000 among its assets. Do Jamatt Properties LLC or Orange Park LLC count as “mortgage companies” in the eyes of Florida law?
News Growl was unable to find any definition of the term “mortgage company” in the Florida Code.
And to be fair, it seems highly unlikely that a candidate with the vast amount of corporate experience that James Buchanan benefits from would fail to disclose a corporate interest he was required to make.
So presumably there is no issue with his lack of disclosure of interests in either corporation.
Speaking of vast amounts of corporate experience…
13 more Florida corporations James Buchanan is VP of
There can be no doubt that James Buchanan is vastly experienced when it comes to Florida corporations, especially when it comes to being a Vice President. There are 13 other Florida-registered corporations with one James Buchanan of 707 S Washington Blvd. listed as VP. As with Jamatt Porperties LLC and Orange Park LLC, none of these appear on James Buchanan’s financial declaration form.
- COUNTRY CLUB SHORES, LLC
- SARASOTA-BRADENTON AVIATION, INC.
- V.B. INVESTMENTS, INC.
- V.B. INVESTMENTS, LLC
- 996, INC.
- JAMAT REALTY, INC.
- CORTEZ LANDINGS, LLC
- MB ACQUISITION & LEASING, LLC
- V.B. POINTE WEST INVESTMENTS, LLC
- ELK HAVEN RANCH – RDDWB, LLC
- COUNTRY CLUB SHORES III, LLC
- COUNTRY CLUB SHORES II, LLC
- HIGH ASPEN FLORIDA, LLC
Records of each corporation are available on the Florida Division of Corporations website.
Again, as long as James Buchanan owns less than 5% of these corporations and earns less than $1,000 a year from each one, the instructions on the Florida financial disclosure form do not appear to require him to list any of these interests.
James Buchanan does list two Florida-registered corporations among his assets: Amerestate Global LLC (which does business as James Buchanan Realty, and from which he earned the $22,712 declared income in 2016) and Amerestate Global Investment Group LLC (from which he declared no income).
Let the voters decide
James Buchanan’s finances might be a lot more complicated than those of the average Florida voter, but when you are the son of one of the wealthiest members of the US Congress that is hardly a surprise.
And it is hardly a surprise that someone from a wealthy and politically influential family would benefit from his family’s business and political interests. In fact, it would be very odd if he did not.
But for James Buchanan to claim that he is not riding on his father’s coattails is a different matter.
Considering the many advantages he enjoys and the vast family-run corporate holdings he is connected to, he certainly has benefited from being the son of Vern Buchanan.
His claim to the contrary is one Florida voters will have to weigh up themselves when they enter the polling booths on February 13.