A Saturday meeting of the Virgin Islands Republican Party is perhaps the perfect distillation of just how off the rails things have gotten. There are interloping Michiganders, competing slates of delegates, direct mail schemes and years worth of petty, intra-party shenanigans all on the cusp of boiling over into a potentially contested convention in Cleveland.
On Saturday, members of the Virgin Islands’ Republican Territorial Committee gathered at a gun range in St. Croix where Chairman John Canegata presided over the meeting with an empty ammunition clip in lieu of a forgotten gavel. There was an alleged physical altercation (details of which are bitterly disputed) in which either a thrown cell phone clocked an official in the head and/or an elected delegate was shoved to the ground. The police had to be called. The minutes of the meeting as well as video provided to TPM detail a chaotic gathering where committee members stood and yelled as Canegata allegedly ignored “points of order” being shouted from the audience.
In the Virgin Islands, the fight of the moment is over competing delegate slates –one elected versus one put forth by Canegata– that in a contested convention in Cleveland could play a role in determining whether Ted Cruz or Donald Trump ultimately locks up the nomination. But the characters here — from the chairman who lists his place of employment on Linkedin as the “Cruzan Rum Distillery” to elected delegate John Yob, the author of a how to guide for contested conventions who was accused of lying about his residency to become a delegate, all have their own back stories.
For example, John Yob and his dad Chuck Yob, both Michiganders, have had their moments with Ted Cruz’s territorial delegate wrangler and former RNC chairman candidate Saul Anuzis (also a Michigander for those keeping score at home.) The Yobs supported Anuzis’ rival in the race for national committeeman to the RNC in 2012. That was after, according to an account from a local CBS News affiliate, Anuzis “spearheaded” the race against then national committeeman Chuck Yob in 2007. While Yob has posted on his Facebook that his fight to be a delegate has nothing to do with Anuzis and he hopes they can join forces eventually, the Weekly Standard pointed out last week that the political gamesmanship between the two families is alive and well. At a Michigan GOP meeting earlier this month, Anuzis was not pleased that Chuck Yob and other allies earned spots on the credentials committee for Cleveland.
“This is the same committee that will be deciding which delegates are eligible to vote for the presidential nominations in the event that their status as valid delegates is disputed, and conveniently, that’s exactly the situation Chuck Yob’s son John is dealing with in the Virgin Islands,” the Standard wrote.
But it goes on. Anuzis’ ties to the Virgin Island Republican Party go beyond the Cruz campaign or even generational fights with the Yobs. He also has a relationship with the party’s current chairman Canegata. A New York Times story from 2014 blew the lid off their group, an FEC registered political committee called “VIGOP,” The group sounds an awful lot like the official Republican Party of the Virgin Islands, but don’t be fooled. At the time of the NYT story, the official GOP party in the islands was pretty well dormant. The Times reported that meetings were irregular and there was little fundraising activity. A 2015 OpenSecrets Blog points out, “the Federal Election Commission hasn’t recognized it as a state committee.”
According to OpenSecrets, a deal was struck where Anuzis got a cut of the money raised by the political committee.
Since word got back to other members of the official Virgin Islands GOP, officials haven’t been thrilled. That is because a lot of money raised by the political committee has been raised off of retired people in the mainland U.S. and instead of going primarily toward electioneering, reports show, much of it has been poured back into Forth Right (previously known as Base Connect), a direct mail operation run by notorious fundraising figure Scott B. Mackenzie (who was also listed as VIGOP’s treasurer in the 2013 statement of organization.)
USA Today has the deep dive on the numbers chronicling just where the money is going. They also reveal that the money has flowed to other D.C.-based companies that also list Forth Right’s address. Mackenzie landed in hot water after he allegedly organized an unauthorized direct mail scheme purportedly on behalf of Ken Cuccinelli.
In an interview with USA Today, Mackenzie stood by his affiliation with the VIGOP saying, “You’ve got to build a donor base in order to spend.”
The fundraising debacle, however, has deeply divided the party. Warren B. Cole, an elected delegate in 2016 and current treasurer of the party, was so upset by the scheme that he had previously helped release a complaint about it.. He had previously served as the executive director for the party when Herb Schoenbohm was party chairman. When Canegata took over, Cole was dismissed from the role.
And on and on the connections go.