WASHINGTON ― The FBI on Thursday raided the Annapolis, Maryland, offices of Strategic Campaign Group, a Republican Party consulting firm known for raising money for shady political action committees.
Strategic Campaign Group had previously been named in a since settled lawsuit filed by the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign of Ken Cuccinelli alleging fraud committed against donors who thought they were giving money to support Cuccinelli’s campaign. The lawsuit also names Conservative StrikeForce, the PAC the firm was working for at the time. Dennis Whitfield, senior advisor to Strategic Campaign Group, also served as the chairman of Conservative StrikeForce.
Numerous reports revealed that Conservative StrikeForce misled donors about how their money would be spent while lining the pockets of consulting firms tied to the PAC’s directors, Whitfield and Scott MacKenzie.
Cuccinelli claimed that Conservative StrikeForce and Strategic Campaign Group had violated the federal Lanham Act, which bans fraudulent advertising.
The lawsuit cited email fundraising solicitations sent by Conservative StrikeForce with the help of Strategic Campaign Group begging donors to help fund a get-out-the-vote effort to help the Cuccinelli campaign. One email read: “We must pay for phone banks, get-out-the-vote programs, mailings, rallies - whatever it takes. Please donate whatever you can right now. Ken Cuccinelli needs you!”
Conservative StrikeForce spent little to no money it raised on get-out-the-vote efforts, phone banks or other support for Cuccinelli’s campaign.
“Defendants did not use the money donated at the Contribution websites to help Mr. Cuccinelli win the election, but instead diverted nearly all of that money to enrich themselves,” the Cuccinelli complaint states.
The case was eventually settled. Conservative StrikeForce was forced to pay the Cuccinelli campaign $85,000 and give them exclusive use of its email list. Additionally, the PAC agreed to not use any other candidate’s name or image in its materials without that candidate’s written permission.
But that didn’t stop MacKenzie and Whitfield from creating a new super PAC in 2016 to suck money away from supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Their new group, Patriots for Trump, opened its doors in September 2015 and closed shop in January 2016. Over that time period it raised $131,622, mostly from small donors. It spent all of that money on consulting firms.
One of those firms was Campaign Communications LLC, which operated out of the offices of Whitfield’s Strategic Campaign Group. Patriots for Trump paid $14,500 to the firm.
At the time, the Trump campaign sent a cease and desist letter to Patriots for Trump and other super PACs raising money off of Trump’s name.
Other conservative candidates, including former Florida Republican congressman Allen West, have also filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission against Conservative StrikeForce for misleading donors about how it would spend the money it raised.
West’s 2012 complaint states: “These solicitations prey on civic-minded citizens who are led to believe that their contribution may actually be used in support of Allen West, and presumably have no idea that Conservative StrikeForce engages primarily in fundraising that pays for little more than consulting fees.”
In 2016, Conservative StrikeForce piggybacked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by funneling money through its director’s consulting firms to send out anti-Hillary Clinton fundraising solicitations.
Multiple calls to the Strategic Consulting Group from HuffPost were not answered on Thursday.