The FBI raided a Republican campaign consultant's Annapolis office Thursday, leading Maryland Republican lawmakers to say they won't work with the firm.
Kelley Rogers, president of Strategic Campaign Group, said a half-dozen FBI agents arrived at his Main Street office at about 8:30 a.m. with a warrant to search and seize records.
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the agency conducted "law enforcement activity" along Main Street in Annapolis but would not be more specific.
Agents on the scene, dressed in plainclothes, confirmed they were with the FBI but referred all other questions to a spokeswoman. They left the building shortly after 4 p.m., carrying files and a computer with them.
Rogers, whose firm has worked with campaign committees for Maryland Senate and House of Delegates candidates, said the FBI investigation concerns work the firm performed during the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign of former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican.
Rogers said the investigation did not involve Maryland politics and insisted his firm had done nothing wrong, but said he would release clients from their contracts if desired.
Maryland Republicans quickly distanced themselves from the firm.
Both Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, of Baltimore County, and House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, of Anne Arundel County, said their committees will not use the firm again until its legal issues are resolved.
They confirmed that campaign committees for GOP senators and delegates had hired the firm to raise money and do other work before the 2017 session.
"I'm shocked by what has come to light today and we will not be working with them on any new projects until the legal process is completed and they are cleared," Kipke said a few hours after the raid.
Kipke's campaign committee was one of the firm's best customers, having spent more than $30,000 on their services since 2014, according to state campaign finance records.
Jennings said the company did satisfactory work last year but added that GOP senators haven't been in touch with the firm since the session ended last month.
"I think, should we hire a company, we would look elsewhere," he said.
The firm also worked with Maryland lawmakers running for federal seats. Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, employed the firm in his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives last year. Strategic Campaign Group also worked to support Del. Kathy Szeliga as the Baltimore County Republican ran for U.S. Senate.
According to Rogers, his firm settled a civil suit brought by the Cuccinelli campaign after the candidate lost the 2013 Virginia governor's race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Rogers said the investigation appears to stem from allegations brought in that suit.
The Cuccinelli suit alleged that Strategic Campaign Group and the associated Conservative Strike Force Political Action Committee — an independent group not affiliated with the candidate — raised about $2.2 million by assuring donors it would spend that money to help elect the GOP candidate. But the suit alleged the PAC and Strategic Campaign Group failed to follow through on promises of an extensive media campaign on Cuccinelli's behalf.
In the suit, Cuccinelli accused the firm of false advertising, breach of contract and unauthorized use of his name and image.
Rogers said his firm settled the dispute for what he recalls as $75,000. Press accounts put the amount at $85,000.
He insisted Thursday that the Cuccinelli campaign's claims have no merit. He said his firm raised about $300,000 for the PAC to spend on the governor's race. Of that amount, $10,000 was donated to Cuccinelli's campaign. He said the PAC, which he controlled, conducted an email campaign on behalf of Cuccinelli but was unable to raise enough money for direct mail or broadcast campaigns.
"I feel like we did everything in our power," Rogers said. "Had he been a better candidate, I think we could have done better."
Rogers and firm vice president Chip O'Neil spoke to reporters Thursday while FBI agents still were working in their office. Both spoke without lawyers present.
Cuccinelli said in a statement that he had not spoken to federal law enforcement officials about the consulting firm 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 praised the professionalism of the FBI agents and predicted the investigation would clear his name and that of the firm.
"The truth shall set you free," he said. "I think it was frivolous then. I think it was frivolous now."
Rogers said agents arrived without notice and presented a search warrant. He said they took records and downloaded other information from the firm's computers.
FBI spokeswoman Lindsay Ram said the investigation is being conducted through the bureau's Washington field office, which has jurisdiction in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. She said agents from the office sometimes cross over into other jurisdictions when the entity they are investigating has offices in multiple locations. She declined to provide more details.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Amanda Yeager and John McNamara and the Associated Press contributed to this article.
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