Richmond, VA — Scott Taylor isn't the only Republican from Virginia's second congressional district with a fraud problem. Virginia State Senator Jen Kiggans is taking after her fellow Republican with a controversy of her own — plagiarizing an op-ed by Elaine Luria and passing it off as her own arguments to raise money for her campaign.
As reported by the Daily Beast Friday, Kiggans wrote a fundraising email that copied an op-ed by Luria arguing for more defense spending to counter China's military buildup. Even stranger, Kiggans then tried to argue that Luria disagreed with this strategy. As one plagiarism expert put it while examining Kiggans's email, her move was "really bizarre.”
See below for key excerpts and read the full article here.
By Roger Sollenberger
It is, by all measurements, one thing to knock your political opponent on a policy you disagree with. It’s another to criticize them even when you agree.
But it may be an entirely different universe of hypocrisy to misrepresent your opponent’s position and attack them using their own arguments and words—not as in throwing their words back at them and refuting their arguments, but as in actually taking their words and presenting them as your own.
Jen Kiggans, the top Republican candidate in a pivotal House race next year, recently sent out a fundraising email dinging her opponent as part of a Democratic coalition that doesn’t “put America first” and will “cower to China.”
That email, however, would likely receive a failing grade in a classroom; it lifts key phrases from her Democratic opponent.
Kiggans, in the attempt to pillory her political rival—two-term incumbent Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA)—actually agrees with her, and appears to have stolen language directly from a Wall Street Journal op-ed Luria published four days prior to the email blast.
Mark Algee-Hewitt, director of the Stanford University Literary Lab and an expert in statistical linguistic analysis, called the email “really bizarre.” His software analysis pegged the probability that one of the phrases in question was accidental at one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000.
“For comparison’s sake, that is less likely than you being elected president of the USA and winning the Powerball lottery in the same year,” Algee-Hewitt told The Daily Beast.
The op-ed, which ran this month, advocates for a beefed-up defense budget to meet the threat posed by China’s military build-up. Luria, whose district is home to the world’s largest naval base, took an uncommon position for a Democrat, chiding top military brass for an anemic budget request and for their contradictory statements about the seriousness of the threat posed by China.
Kiggans, a Virginia state senator, makes the same overall argument—many of them in strikingly similar language to Luria’s. She claims this stance sets her apart from elected Democrats who “don’t seem to share that perspective,” while ignoring that Luria does, in fact, share that perspective. Sometimes down to the very word.
Here are direct comparisons of the language in question:
Luria cites the growth in Chinese military power, specifically overtaking the U.S. naval fleet by 63 ships: “Meanwhile, China is building warships at an astonishing rate. In 2010 the U.S. Navy had 68 more ships than the Chinese navy. Today, it has 63 fewer, a swing of 131 ships in 10 years.”
Four days later, Kiggans appears to swap in just some slightly different phrasing: “Meanwhile, China has been steadily growing militarily… they have more ships in their fleet than the US (by more than 60).”
Luria also points out that China has “the world’s third-largest air force.” Kiggins also writes that “they have the third largest air force in the world.”
And, in the most egregious example of potential plagiarism, where the op-ed says, “China has an extensive ground-based conventional missile force,” the Kiggans fundraising email states, “they have built extensive ground-based conventional missile forces.”
That phrase is not a military term of art or commonly used expression. A closed-quote Google search for “extensive ground-based conventional missile force” only returned one hit: Luria’s op-ed.
Marty Steffen, chair of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, told The Daily Beast she was “absolutely sure there’s a cause and effect” between the two pieces of writing. But because it was unclear how widely circulated these specific facts were, she stopped short of calling it outright plagiarism.
“She lifted some words, and I’m absolutely sure there’s a cause and effect here. The email is clearly a response to the op-ed, and tries to use those talking points against her,” Steffens said.
Kathy Kiely—Steffens’ colleague at Missouri’s journalism school—said the proximity of publication seems “too close to be a coincidence,” and that Kiggans should have acknowledged she was responding to the op-ed. If it were a student submission, Kiely said, would “definitely deduct points for this if not outright flunk the paper.”
“If the imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Kiggans is clearly flattering her opponent here,” Kiely said.
She also observed that “the only difference is a grammatical error in the email, where the email refers to China as ‘they,’ instead of the singular. Luria uses the appropriate grammar.” Kiely added that the phrase about ground-based conventional missile forces appeared to be “a direct lift.”
“That’d be a hard combination of words to string together, and I did Google that,” she said.
Algee-Hewitt said it would be “practically impossible” that both authors would have independently written that phrase—especially four days apart.
For other phrases—“world’s third-largest air force” and the clip about the size of China’s fleet—the analysis was a little more difficult. The Air Force phrase would be “slightly more common” in the national security context, the expert said, but still found its independent occurrence “quite unlikely.”
Kiggans’ campaign spokesperson Bryan Piligra did not answer The Daily Beast’s repeated questions about the coinciding verbiage and whether the candidate wrote the email herself. He instead provided a statement highlighting Kiggans’ foreign policy credentials.
In 2018, she unseated Navy SEAL veteran and former Rep. Scott Taylor, then fended him off again in 2020, winning by nearly six points.
All experts contacted for this article agreed that Kiggans should have acknowledged her email was a response to the op-ed.
“It should have been cast as a response to her column,” Kiely said. “It looks cheap and cheaty to plagiarize without giving credit.”