Two scandals involving different members of the House Republican caucus erupted in the span of 12 hours.
While most political observers were waiting for results to come in from Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio last night, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) announced that he was severing ties with a campaign consultant less than three months before Election Day. This decision came amid allegations that Taylor’s campaign staff had collected petitions with forged signatures to get former Democratic candidate Shaun Brown on the November general election ballot, with the intention of having Brown siphon votes in the general election from Taylor’s Democratic challenger Elaine Luria. The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney asked Circuit Judge Glenn Croshaw to appoint a special prosecutor. Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell was picked for the job.
Reaction from the Democratic Party of Virginia:
“Democrats and Republicans agree that the integrity of our election process is paramount. VA-02 voters deserve to know if Congressman Taylor’s paid staff violated the law and if all candidates received the required number of signatures to make the ballot this November. We look forward to seeing the results of Commonwealth’s Attorney Caldwell’s investigation into this matter.”
Reaction from the Luria campaign (Caveat: this statement is dated August 1, before Caldwell’s appointment was announced):
“Dirty and deceptive politics like this are exactly why Washington is broken and people are losing faith in their government. Clearly, Scott Taylor is terrified and willing to do anything to avoid going head to head with Commander Luria,” said Kathryn Sorenson, Elaine Luria’s Campaign Manager.
This morning, the Department of Justice announced an indictment against Rep. Charles Collins (R-N.Y.), his son, and his son’s fiancee’s father on allegations of insider trading. (You can read the document here, or watch the press conference here) Speaker Paul Ryan announced he was stripping Collins of his membership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee until the allegations were resolved. Collins has said he will fight the charges and continue his reelection campaign in November.
Both districts are usually reliably Republican, but both incumbents are now under a legal cloud that may or may not dissipate before the election. What political effect, if any, these legal developments will have on Taylor and Collins is not known. The Collins indictment virtually assures that ethics will become a major issue in this cycle, though most of the ethics scandals of the past two years have involved Trump cabinet officials like Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Ryan Zinke, not to mention the President himself. Democrats used the “culture of corruption” message to devastating effect in flipping the House of Representatives in 2006, so it’s likely they will use an updated version of that playbook for the next three months.