Bernier didn’t return the questionnaire, and Caligiuri won the group’s backing. The two are battling for the right to face Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Keene, whose group has interacted with Bernier over the issue but isn’t officially backing him, said the HCF’s conduct doesn’t meet the smell test.
“We have always considered a candidate endorsement by the House Conservatives Fund to be equivalent to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” said Keene, who writes a column for The Hill. “This corruption of the process can lead to the destruction of the conservative brand.”
McHenry’s chief of staff, Parker Poling, acknowledged that she sent Bernier a questionnaire document that contained instructions to return it to Kozlow. But she said Kozlow was otherwise excluded from the process of endorsing Caligiuri.
She said Bernier never raised any objections and neither did Keene, until now.
“We took every conceivable step to make sure that the process is fair, and Patrick makes all the decisions,” Poling said.
Bernier noted that Caligiuri paid Kozlow more than $75,000 in consulting fees when Caligiuri was a Senate candidate in 2009.
Caligiuri has since switched to running for Congress. Kozlow is still his consultant.
“For any of these sort of organizations, they ought to make their conflicts of interest known up front,” Bernier said. “I don’t know if Rep. McHenry knew the relationship that Sam has with Evan, but clearly it’s an expensive one.”
Kozlow did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE: Kozlow emphasizes that he took all steps to recuse himself from the process with Caligiuri and said any allegations of corruption are political cheap shots.
"The decision to endorse Mr. Caligiuri, as it is for any candidate, is made by Mr. McHenry after the questionnaire has been filled out and a meeting or phone conversation has been had between the candidate and Mr. McHenry," Kozlow said. "The assertion that there was any 'corruption' in the process is entirely untrue, and it is unfortunate that people with political agendas would taint the work of hard working and loyal conservatives.”