ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — FBI agents raided the office of a Republican consulting firm in Maryland in connection with an investigation into the 2013 Virginia governor's race.
The FBI confirmed it served a search warrant Thursday in Annapolis, Maryland, but declined to elaborate. Kelley Rogers, president of Strategic Campaign Group, told reporters the investigation relates to work the consultant did for former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP's 2013 gubernatorial candidate.
Rogers told reporters that his firm settled a lawsuit brought by the Cuccinelli campaign after he lost the governor's race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Rogers said the investigation appears to have stemmed from allegations in that lawsuit.
The firm's website describes Strategic Campaign Group as "a full-service Republican political consulting firm able to design, manage, and execute every aspect of political and fundraising campaigns for Republican politicians, conservative political action committees, and conservative organizations of all kinds."
The windows in the firm's doors leading into its third floor suite in a building on Main Street in Maryland's capital were obscured as FBI agents served the search warrant. Rogers did not immediately return a phone call or email from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Rogers' firm also did campaign work for Maryland Republican lawmakers. Republican state legislative leaders said they wouldn't do further work with the firm unless it is cleared in the investigation.
"I'm shocked by it," said Del. Nic Kipke, the House minority leader. "All of the work they've done for me has been competent and of the highest ethical standards, and I have no reason to believe that they would do anything unethical."
Sen. J.B. Jennings, the Senate minority leader, said the firm had done work for the Senate Republican caucus.
"This came as an absolute shock to us, but we have not renegotiated a contract this year because no one has really gotten around to it, and so with this, we're just going to separate our relationship for now," Jennings said.
Cuccinelli sued Strategic Campaign Group in 2014, alleging that the company and a political action committee duped donors. Cuccinelli said the Conservative StrikeForce PAC raised $2.2 million in 2013, largely by promising donors the money would help Cuccinelli in his ultimately unsuccessful Virginia campaign against McAuliffe. The PAC only gave $10,000 to Cuccinelli's campaign, which was heavily outspent by McAuliffe.
Cuccinelli's lawsuit described the StrikeForce PAC as being "controlled by" Strategic Campaign Group. The company and the PAC settled with Cuccinelli in 2015, agreeing to pay his gubernatorial campaign $85,000.
Several political campaigns in recent years have complained of so-called "scam PACs" that purportedly raise money to help a political campaign, but instead enrich consultants and others with the bulk of the funds. Such groups have become more prevalent in recent years after a series of court rulings, including the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decisions, reshaped the campaign finance landscape and boosted the prominence of groups not directly associated with a candidate.
Cuccinelli said Wednesday in a statement to The Associated Press that he'd not spoken to any federal law enforcement officials about Strategic Campaign Group but is "curious" to see where the case goes.
"It was my hope when we brought our lawsuit to cast light on the dark practices of scam PACs. I think we did that successfully," Cuccinelli said. "Any cleaning up of these practices would be good for our political system.
Rogers was a senior consultant to one-time White House party crasher and former reality television figure Tareq Salahi's run for Virginia governor in 2013, according to a campaign news release. Rogers said on his company's website that he's worked for numerous Republican politicians at every level.
Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker contributed to this report in Washington. Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia.