On Thursday, Andrew Hitt, Chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin issued the following statement:
“Cybercriminals, using a sophisticated phishing attack, stole funds intended for the re-election of President Trump, altered invoices and committed wire fraud. These criminals exhibited a level of familiarity with state party operations at the end of the campaign to commit this crime. While a large sum of money was stolen, our operation is running at full capacity with all the resources deployed to ensure President Donald J. Trump carries Wisconsin on November 3rd.”
He explained that last Thursday, October 22nd, the Wisconsin Republican Party had been struck by a multifaceted phishing attack. They informed the F.B.I. Friday morning that hackers took $2.3 million by doctoring invoices under the name of Wisconsin Republican vendors. They didn’t find that protected information of any kind had been breached, and are working with the F.B.I. as it conducts an investigation.
Mr. Hitt acknowledged that state parties had been cautioned to be on the lookout for suspicious cyber activity at the Republican National Convention a few months back. He does not know of any attacks on other Republican state parties.
Republican National Committee Response
Speaking for the Republican National Committee, Michael Ahrens said, “We have been in contact with the state party and are assisting them through this process.” At the same time, reports say, campaign officials, have not been briefed on how it might affect operations on the ground and noted that in 2018, Wisconsin Republican Party overspending and a poor accounting job meant they had to reorganize party leadership.
2018 Troubles for Wisconsin GOP
In 2018, party spokesman Charles Nichols told the Journal Sentinel “credit card use, already excessive, became heavier in the final weeks of the cycle, to supplement spending on behalf of the gubernatorial campaign. When cash flow problems started to occur, the credit card was used to supplement spending, which continued after the election. This resulted in a balance well over the card limit, which continued to rack up nearly $600 a month in interest charges as the balance went unpaid for months.” In addition, a review commissioned by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson found the state party was “recklessly reliant” on consultants who charged exorbitant fees up to $500,000.
Mr. Hitt emphasized that the money stolen had been for services already rendered. He said hackers manipulated invoices from four vendors being paid for direct mailings for the Trump’s re-election campaign, Trump 2020 merchandise material such as hats, stickers, and signs to be handed out to supporters. The invoices and other documents got altered so when the party paid them, the money went to the hackers instead of the vendors.
The discovery was made when a staffer noticed an invoice was generated that should not have been.
Campaigns Go Into the Final Stretch
Wisconsin, and its 10 electoral votes, are key in the Presidential race. Vice President Pence said Wednesday, “the road to victory goes straight through Wisconsin,” and urged people to take advantage of early voting and cast their ballot immediately. President Trump is due in the Green Bay area on Friday and will need to bring home a high number of votes there to counter Democratic strongholds in Milwaukee and Dane counties. Biden will campaign there on Friday as well. Polls indicate a tight race, within the margin of error.
Carol King received a first-class BA (honors) in History and Politics from Stirling University, along with an exceptional commendation for a study on US public opinion and Foreign Policy. She also completed a year of study at University of London before taking up a Graduate Proctor Fellowship at Princeton University. She further completed a MPhil in American Politics at Dundee University. Aspiring to be a writer/commentator on American politics, she now writes for UncoverDC.