V.I. Republicans Get Unwanted Spotlight Again

John Canegata
John Canegata

The fundraising activities of the Virgin Islands Republican Party are under fire again. This time the shots are being fired in Utah.

Calling the VIGOP fundraising a scam operation is nothing new.

Members of a Virgin Islands Republican Party ad hoc committee recommended the efforts affiliating the local party with stateside fundraisers be stopped in 2014. The members of that committee were effectively booted out of the party as the newly elected chairman of the party, John Canegata, tightened his control.

In 2016 Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said the VIGOP was “preying on seniors in a disgusting attempt to enrich themselves.”

In 2017 Politico wrote an article about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dealing with questionable PACs and the Virgin Islands was featured prominently.

Now making the claim is Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, and she is making news in her home state newspaper the Salt Lake Tribune. The newspaper reported last week, “The thousands that the group (VIGOP) reports spending on Love’s behalf went mostly for consultants who send letters to raise more money, disclosure forms show.”

To answer to the question if the VIGOP is really a scam one needs to know where its independent expenditures are going.

And that is what worries Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform project of Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C.

Independent expenditures are the largest category of spending on forms that VIGOP has filed with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Those funds can easily end up in the hands of consultants. A scam PAC raises money to use to raise more money and that is legal.

Fischer told the Source Monday that VIGOP could be “exploiting loopholes” to raise money for members of the PAC instead of for candidates. He added he did not know of any investigation of VIGOP by federal authorities, but any such investigation would not be made public until after it was completed.

According to Canegata, VIGOP is not a PAC, it is the territorial party that has a separate account dedicated to fundraising and donating to certain campaigns. However, he adds the FEC treats VIGOP as a PAC.

The treasurer of the VIGOP special account is Virginian Scott Mackenzie. Mackenzie who operates several other conservative PACs has a reputation that does not help the reputation of VIGOP. One of his PACs was taken to court by a gubernatorial candidate in Virginia and the PAC had to pay an $85,000 settlement to the candidate. The Source contacted the V.I. Attorney General’s Office about the allegations against VIGOP and was told that office had no comment on the matter.

Canegata said Mackenzie was “the best at filing FEC reports.” He added, “I don’t know about you but I don’t want to lie to the federal government.”

Fischer said he read the article in the Daily News about the VIGOP controversy and found the article “a little weird.” Canegata was quoted in the article saying the VIGOP raised $113,000 in this election cycle. Fischer said that figure “jumped out at me” and he could not figure where Canegata got it. He pointed at a FEC document that said the PAC had raised $2.3 million. Canegata told the Source the reporter had mislabel that figure; that it was the amount of direct donations to candidates that VIGOP had made. Canegata in the Daily News article also said the PAC had maxed out in donations to Love, but Fischer saw only $2,000 donated to her campaign in 2017. The PAC is allowed to donate $5,000. Canegata Monday evening was sticking by his assertion that donations to Love had been maxed out.

Into this mix of politics and money Joe Friday arrived. Joe Friday is the pseudonym for some one sending out emails to all the local media attacking Canegata. Speculation has been that the writer is Dennis Lennox a political operative working for Canegata but who left the island dissatisfied with what happened during his final days in the territory.

Joe Friday’s last email Monday disputed Canegata’s claim in the Daily News that VIGOP had spent $1,600 for independent mailings for Love and $8,000 for a telephone call effort supporting her campaign. Friday said no such expenditures showed up on forms filed with the FEC. Canegata said the expenditures were listed under independent expenditures and he sent the Source a copy of the mailer he said was mailed out for Love. The Source contacted Love’s office to get further comment on her campaign but the call was not returned.