Scott MacKenzie, the treasurer for a political action committee called VIGOP Virgin Islands Republican Party, pleaded guilty to submitting “a number of materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations” to the Federal Election Commission from 2011 to 2018.
The plea doesn’t mention the PAC affiliated with the territory’s Republican Party. The Center for Public Integrity reports that MacKenzie, a resident of Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C., was treasurer for about 50 fundraising organizations.
The plea filed last week means MacKenzie could serve five years in a federal prison, pay a $250,000 fine and be liable for restitution.
MacKenzie’s fundraising efforts have been controversial among members of the V.I. Republican Party and were one of the contentious items contributing to the split in the territory’s Republican Party during the election of President Donald Trump. An ad hoc committee in the territory recommended in 2014 that the party break its connections with MacKenzie. After the election, the faction led by John Canegata, which supported Trump and supported MacKenzie’s efforts, took control of the local party.
At that time Canegata told the Source he did not think MacKenzie would lie to the federal government. Unsuccessful attempts were made by the Source to reach Canegata by phone and email for comments on the plea.
When Warren Bruce Cole, a St. Croix attorney and a Republican who recommended the territory party break connections with MacKenzie in 2014, learned of the plea, he told the Source, “I’m very pleased to see that Mr. MacKenzie’s abuses of our campaign finance laws are being put to an end.”
The complaints about MacKenzie’s efforts were that most of the funds he raised went to the people raising the funds and not to candidates.
After Trump’s election, Canegata tightened his control of the territory’s GOP and the controversy died down. However, MacKenzie’s activities still raised national concerns.
In 2016, according to a report in Politic, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said the VIGOP was “preying on seniors in a disgusting attempt to enrich themselves.”
In October 2018 Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) talked to her home state newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune. The newspaper reported “The thousands that the group [VIGOP] reports spending on Love’s behalf went mostly for consultants who send letters to raise more money.”
The controversy came back to the territory in 2018 when the Campaign Legal Center asked the territory’s Board of Elections and the Federal Election Commission to investigate an appearance of Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke at a VIGOP fundraiser. The center could not find any records of who made donations to whom at that fundraiser, and it appeared Zinke was raising funds during an official government visit. VIGOP later reimbursed the federal government for Zinke’s trip and no known investigation was initiated.
The connection between Zinke, Canegata and the VIGOP got media attention again in 2018. During a television interview Canegata said he had a direct link with Zinke at the Interior Department because of their association with VIGOP and that link helped recovery efforts. Mike McQueery, a spokesman for Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, denied that Canegata had any influence in the federal recovery efforts.
According to a form filed with the Federal Election Commission, VIGOP took in almost $2.4 million last year.
The Center for Public Integrity reported, “During the last two decades, the United States saw a significant spike in the number of PACs that raise most of their money from small-dollar donors before plowing much of it back into salaries, administrative costs and raising more cash.”