Buchanan grew up in a small town outside Detroit Michigan, the son of a factory foreman in a family of six children. His maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Finland. When he graduated from high school in 1969, he joined the Michigan Air National Guard, serving there for six years. Buchanan got a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Cleary University, in Michigan, and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Detroit.
In June 2007, Buchanan, in his financial disclosure filing, reported having over $100 million in assets, making him among the five wealthiest members of Congress. Most of his wealth is from his automotive empire, which includes several dealerships in Florida. He also reported ownership interests in about fifty other businesses, including offshore reinsurance companies, and a charter-jet business. He reported receiving at least $19.5 million in income from these businesses in 2006.
In May 1976, Buchanan convinced the owner of a Michigan printing company that he could help the business grow. The two founded American Speedy Printing, which grew through franchising to more than 730 stores in 44 states. Later, Buchanan and American Speedy were defendants in a string of lawsuits during the late 1980s and early 1990s by franchisees and master franchisees, who said they were not making the money that Buchanan had said they could expect. After the bankruptcy, he was accused by a creditors committee of taking excessive compensation and actions that resulted in overstated earnings for American Speedy. In a 1995 deposition, he said that he had no personal obligation to repay the loan from Merrill Lynch; a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over taxes on the money Buchanan received from Merrill Lynch stretched through the 1990s. Buchanan, his business partner, and Merrill Lynch were sued violating the Michigan Corporation Act. It ended with Buchanan paying $1.5 million.
In 1992, Buchanan bought a Honda and Acura dealership in Ocala, Florida. In late 1999, he bought two more dealerships. He continued to acquire dealerships after that, but in 2006 he sold five dealerships and other businesses in order to concentrate on politics. His dealerships had $756 million in sales in 2005. His Venice Dodge was one of the dealerships informed by Chrysler that it would not get its franchise renewed.
Buchanan owns two reinsurance companies — Jamat Reinsurance Co. and Buchanan Reinsurance Co., in Turks and Caicos, and part of the Bermuda reinsurance company Greater Atlantic Insurance Co. The three companies offer extended warranty policies to car buyers. Buchanan invests some of the proceeds from his reinsurance companies in real estate developments in the Bahamas.
In 1999, Buchanan was approached to help to finance the Ritz-Carlton condo-hotel development in Sarasota. Buchanan was cut out of the project. The developers, Robert Buford and Kevin Daves, said he lied about his financial means. Buchanan sued and the parties settled in 2001. Per a structured settlement, Buchanan bought a condo from a nephew of Buford's for $5 million; the nephew had purchased it the day before for $2.368 million. Buchanan owned the unit a little more than a year and then sold it to another member of Buford's family for $6.35 million. The arrangement resulted in Buchanan paying taxes on his gain at the reduced long-term capital gains rate. Buford benefited from the apartment's increased appraised value and the use of Buchanan's $5 million. In the year he owned the penthouse, Buchanan used it for charity fundraisers.
Buchanan ran in the 13th congressional district in Florida to replace incumbent Republican Katherine Harris, who was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. Buchanan won the Republican primary with 32% of the vote, against four opponents. His closest challengers were Nancy C. Detert, with 25% of the vote, and Tramm Hudson, with 24%.
In the November general election, Buchanan faced Democrat Christine Jennings, a banking executive. There were 216,000 registered Republicans and about 155,000 registered Democrats in the district, but Jennings polled ahead of Buchanan up to election day. Buchanan put more than $5 million of his own money into his campaign.
In October, Vice President Dick Cheney held a fund raising luncheon for Buchanan; later that month, President Bush held a fund raising reception for him. Between the two events, Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Martinez, and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came to the district to campaign for Buchanan.
Initial results of the November election showed Buchanan leading by less than 350 votes. Due to the closeness of the race, and a high undervote of 18,000 in Sarasota County, a recount was ordered. Voters in Sarasota County had given more votes to a hospital board than they had to their Congressional representative—with 13% of voters not voting, compared to an average of 2% in neighboring counties. The touch-screen voting machines used provided no paper record. On November 20, 2006, the Florida Department of State certified the results of the recount, which showed Buchanan winning by 369 votes.
Jennings challenged the results of the election in court, citing "pervasive malfunctioning of electronic voting machines." In December 2006, a Florida circuit judge ruled that her claim that voting machines in Sarasota County lost up to 18,000 votes was "conjecture" and didn't warrant overriding the trade secrets of the voting machine company. In June 2007, a Florida state appellate court ruled that Jennings did not meet the "extraordinary burden" of proving the lower court judge was wrong. Another suit, filed by voters represented by Voter Action, People For the American Way Foundation, the ACLU of Florida, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation was also dismissed.
The U.S. House of Representatives had the right to make the final determination as to whether Buchanan will hold the seat for the remainder of the term or be replaced by Jennings. In April, a three-person House task force was created to evaluate the election. In early May, the task force voted along party lines to refer an investigation into Florida’s 13th district House race to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). On 25 February 2008, the committee and the House accepted the GAO's findings that no machine error was demonstrated as sufficient to have altered the outcome of the election. The House passed HR 989 affirming the findings of the committee, accepting the results of the 2006 race and formally dismissing Jennings' challenge of the election's results. Jennings formally dropped her challenge shortly thereafter to focus on her 2008 rematch against Buchanan.
Buchanan, won narrowly in 2006, but was easily re-elected in a 2008 rematch with Christine Jennings. He received 55% of the vote to 38% for Jennings. On election night in 2008 Buchanan said, "What a difference two years makes." Buchanan said that he was humbled by the huge margin of victory and that he would focus his next term on "jobs, the economy, taxes, energy prices, national security and we've got to change the broken system in Washington."
In May 2009, Buchanan announced that he would be a candidate for re-election to Congress. He defeated Don Baldauf in the Republican primary, and faced Democratic nominee The Reverend James T. Golden in the General. Buchanan won the 2010 General Election for Florida's 13th Congressional District with 68.9% of the vote.
On July 2012, the House Ethics Committee cleared Buchanan of charges that he violated House rules by misleading Congress in his financial disclosure forms. After the issue was raised, Buchanan submitted revised forms. The committee "found no evidence that the errors were knowing or willful and unanimously determined that the errors were not substantively different from the hundreds or thousands of errors corrected by amendment at the requirement of the Committee every year."
In 2008, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an Federal Elections Commission (FEC) complaint, alleging "straw donors" to Buchanan's campaign (campaign contributions from Buchanan's employees for which they were then reimbursed); in 2011, CREW requested a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. (The group also named Buchanan to its annual "most corrupt members of Congress" list for 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012).
By 2012, Buchanan was being investigated on the House Ethics Committee, FEC, Justice Department, and Office of Congressional Ethics, over two separate allegations of campaign finance misconduct: that he had violated federal law and House rules by coercing a former business partner to sign a false affidavit to the FEC, and that he had illegally reimbursed car-dealership employees for campaign contributions. The latter allegation was also raised in a lengthy and acrimonious legal dispute with Sam Kazran, Buchanan's former business partner, who alleged that Buchanan engaged in a "cash swap scheme" in which employees were directed to write checks to Buchanan's campaign fund, then reimbursed by the company.
In 2012, the Justice Department ended its 11-month investigation with no criminal charges. The FEC also ended its investigation by 2012. Kazran agreed to pay $5,500 in fines "for improperly funneling money to Buchanan's campaign committee," and in May 2013 three men and two Tampa companies were fined a total of $16,000 by the FEC for illegal campaign contributions to Buchanan. In 2016, after a four-year inquiry, the House Ethics Committee ended its investigation, finding "insufficient evidence" of wrongdoing on Buchanan's part.
Kazran filed a separate breach of contract lawsuit against Buchanan in Florida state court; Buchanan prevailed in that litigation.
Beginning in 2008, Buchanan faced lawsuits by six former employees, who alleged "conspiracy, fraud, and retaliatory personnel actions" as well as the hiring of undocumented immigrants and consumer fraud. However, none of those cases made it to trial and by 2011 most had been "dismissed with no judgments against Buchanan."
Buchanan was sworn in as Representative for Florida's 13th Congressional District on 3 January 2007. Congressional Quarterly noted that Buchanan voted in support of President Bush's legislative agenda 66 percent of the time in 2007, the third lowest rate of the 16 members of Florida's Republican congressional delegation.
Buchanan secured federal funding of $2 million for reimbursement for cleanup efforts in Anna Maria Island and $4 million for cleaning up Wares Creek in Manatee County.
Buchanan introduced a constitutional amendment in January 2007 which would require Congress to pass a balanced budget if ratified. He introduced legislation to create a US Postage stamp honoring and assisting disabled veterans, as well as secured funding for the construction of a national veterans' cemetery in Sarasota County. Additionally, Buchanan introduced a bill to increase federal assistance for fighting gang crime and secured grant funding for local anti-gang efforts in Manatee County.
As of July 2008, Buchanan had voted to override five of President Bush's vetoes of legislation passed by the 110th Congress. These override votes included a vote in support of expanding the coverage range of the SCHIP program, the 2008 farm bill, and the Water Resources Development Act.
On September 29, 2008, Buchanan voted against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, but changed his vote to support the bill on the October 3, 2008 second House vote .
Buchanan sponsored several bills in the 111th Congress, including House Resolution 1839, a Bill to Amend the Small Business Act to Improve SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), which was introduced on April 1, 2009. House Resolution 1839 would require the administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) to ensure that SCORE increases the proportion of small business mentors from socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds, establish benchmarks for evaluating its activities and volunteers, and establish a mentoring program of one-on-one advice to small businesses from qualified counselors.
In the 112th Congress, Buchanan was named to a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, the only Member from Florida serving on that Committee. He was also asked by NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions to serve as Vice Chairman of the Committee, elevating him to an important leadership post.
In January 2011, Buchanan helped secure the construction of Sarasota National Cemetery through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The cemetery plans include 11,500 grave sites, 16,000 cremain sites and other buildings and structures necessary for funerals for veterans and their families.
In June 2011, the House passed Buchanan's "Military Tribunals for Terrorists Act" as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. The amendment, approved by a largely party-line vote of 246-173, largely along party lines, would "require all foreign terrorism suspects to be tried only in military tribunals and never in civilian courts."
In October 2011, Buchanan "played a large role" in the passage of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The treaties were backed by the White House, and a bipartisan majority in Congress.
In December 2011, the House passed H.R. 527, a Buchanan-backed measure to close "loopholes in current law to ensure regulatory agencies will fully account for the effect of new regulations on small businesses before regulations are adopted."
In February 2012, Buchanan supported President Obama's proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%. In a statement, Buchanan said, "I appreciate the president's willingness to engage on such an important issue."
In 2011, Buchanan, along with Democratic Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, introduced the Pill Mill Crackdown Act of 2011, legislation that would require money seized from so-called pill mills to be directed to drug treatment programs; "increase fines and sentences for those convicted of running pill mills"; and make hydrocodone drugs such as Vicodin more difficult to obtain. The bill received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate (where introduced companion bill was introduced), but never made it out of committee.
Committee on Ways and MeansSubcommittee on Trade
Subcommittee on Health
In the 113th Congress, Buchanan introduced a resolution denouncing the international practice of shark finning. Buchanan’s resolution calls for a ban on importing shark fins from fisheries that engage in shark finning.
Buchanan criticized President Donald Trump's 2017 executive order to impose bar entry to the U.S. to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and also supported Trump's executive order to bar federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, saying "“LONG OVERDUE ... Time to protect Americans."
Buchanan lives in Longboat Key, Florida with his wife of 31 years, Sandy, whom he met while in college. The Buchanans have two grown sons, James and Matt.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Buchanan its "Spirit of Enterprise" award in 2009. Buchanan is a former board member of the chamber, which endorsed him in the 2006 and 2008 races for the 13th Congressional District seat.
Also in 2009, the Veterans of Foreign Wars gave Buchanan their Legislative Achievement Award for his work on legislation improving the quality of life of active and reserve service members, military retirees, veterans and their families.