Politics

Scott Taylor Campaign Spends Thousands on Legal Fees, Still Paid Staffers in Petition Fraud Scandal

Taylor maintains he knew nothing but promised to fire any involved staffers

Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Va., leaves the Capitol after the last votes in the House before the Memorial Day recess on May 24, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The political scandal surrounding Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor’s campaign is still simmering as a state special prosecutor investigates allegations that four of Taylor’s campaign staffers and advisers forged dozens — possibly hundreds — of constituent signatures to help a third-party candidate onto the ballot this November.

The 2nd District Republican continued to pay the four staffers accused of committing the forgeries, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine, his third-quarter filing with the Federal Elections Commission shows.

Taylor also shelled out more than $10,000 in legal fees from his campaign coffers to at least four different law firms in August and September.

Taylor had never paid any of the four law firms prior to the third filing quarter of 2018. The campaign made its first four disbursements toward those apparent legal costs less than a week after Commonwealth of Virginia assigned Roanoke attorney Don Caldwell to investigate the matter as a special prosecutor.

Scott Weldon, a spokesman for Taylor, indicated that the staffers involved in the petition fraud scandal no longer work for the congressman's campaign — even though they were each cut paychecks multiple times after reports of their alleged malfeasance surfaced in early August.

"While we very much look forward to full transparency and truth coming out on this issue, regrettably, our statement with every piece and angle of this story remains the same: we cannot comment due to the ongoing investigation into former campaign staff," Weldon said in a statement.

Taylor, who has claimed he did not know his staffers were forging signatures on petition sheets for independent Shaun Brown, his 2016 Democratic opponent, said shortly after WHRO radio broke the story in early August that he would purge his campaign of any bad actors.

“You have my word that if anyone in my campaign did anything that was wrong, that was illegal, that was inappropriate or something like that, I would fire them in a second,” Taylor said in a Facebook Live broadcast to his supporters on Aug. 6.

Taylor said he would not spare even his “closest advisers, who I wouldn’t want to fire, but I would.” 

That did not appear to be the case based on his FEC filing.

As recently as Sept. 12, more than a month after Caldwell was assigned to investigate the forgeries, Taylor’s campaign doled out “payroll” and “campaign consulting” disbursements to Lauren Creekmore, Roberta Marciano, Daniel Bohner, and Heather Guillot.

A Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled in September to toss out every petition sheet submitted by Creekmore, Marciano, Bohner, and Guillot on Brown’s behalf after he found them “rife with errors, inconsistencies, and forgeries.”

In September, the Democratic Party of Virginia successfully sued the state elections board to remove Brown’s name from the ballot. The DPVA accused Taylor of hatching the forgery scheme to split the Democratic party vote between Brown, the party’s 2016 candidate, and Elaine Luria, its nominee in the upcoming midterm election.

Taylor denied the accusation that he was trying to use Brown to siphon votes away from Luria, saying he was just trying to help a candidate that the DPVA had “disenfranchised.” He did not tell his staff to commit any forgeries, he said, and, if they did, he was not aware.

The Virginia Democrats aren’t buying it and criticized Taylor for retaining staffers who are under investigation.

“The very little that Scott Taylor has told us about this forgery scheme appears to be a lie,” DPVA communications director Jake Rubenstein said in a statement Tuesday.

“Instead of holding his staff accountable and coming clean, he appears to be protecting and rewarding them,” Rubenstein said.

Taylor paid the four staffers accused of submitting the fraudulent signatures a total of $43,559.54 in the third quarter over a series of six payments each, roughly corresponding with a bimonthly paycheck plan, per the congressman’s FEC filing.

Guillot earned $13,500 for campaign consulting; Creekmore and Marciano earned roughly $7,500 each; and Bohner earned $9,000 from consulting while a limited liability corporation associated with his name, Validus, earned $6,000 in legal fees.

Will it matter?

In mid-September, internal poll numbers from Luria’s campaign showed Taylor slipping in his bid for a second term.

Luria led the GOP incumbent by 8 points, 51 percent to 43 percent, in the poll conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, a lead within the margin of error.

But Taylor appears to have surged back ahead, according to a new poll of likely voters conducted by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy from Oct. 3 through Oct. 12.

Taylor led Luria, 50 percent to 43 percent, in the survey of 798 likely voters in Virginia’s 2nd District.

President Donald Trump carried the district over Hillary Clinton by 3 points in 2016 while Taylor cruised to a 23-point victory over Brown.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican.

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