Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL), a four-term congressman who represents much of the Florida Panhandle, lost nearly $11,000 in campaign funds to a thief in November, according to a Federal Election Commission document reviewed by Raw Story.
Representatives for Dunn’s congressional office and campaign committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment by Raw Story.
But in a letter to the Federal Election Commission dated Jan. 27, Friends of Neal Dunn campaign treasury Caleb Crosby explained that it had been “victimized” by “an external check fraud situation.”
The Dunn campaign does not appear to have yet recouped the lost money.
“On November 18, 2022, it was discovered that a fraudulent check was posted to the Friends of Neal Dunn bank account as of November 3, 2022,” Crosby wrote the federal campaign finance regulatory agency. “After an internal review, it was determined that the committee was victimized by an external check fraud situation. The committee immediately notified the bank of the fraud and froze the account.
Added Crosby: “The fraudulent disbursement is under investigation by the committee's bank in an attempt to recover funds. We will update the commission when the bank's investigation concludes.”
Dunn’s campaign was hurting for cash as of late November, according to its most recent campaign accounting disclosure, reported about $255,000 in available cash against nearly $306,000 worth of debt. Dunn in November defeated fellow Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat, after both ran to represent a new district created as part of Florida’s once-per-decade redistricting process.
Meanwhile, Rep. Russell Fry (R-SC), a freshman congressman whose district includes South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach, recently reported to federal regulators that it had experienced seven “fraudulent” expenditures drawn from its campaign account in November.
Each “fraudulent charge” was worth hundreds of dollars and involved unauthorized purchases at stores including department store Nordstrom, outfitter The North Face, grocer Safeway and drug store Walgreens, per federal records.
Total hit: more than $2,600, although the Fry campaign has since recouped the cash.
“Unfortunately, like many Americans, our debit card information was stolen and used without our permission,” Fry campaign spokesman Phillip Habib told Raw Story. “This incident highlights the threats Americans face and the importance of companies securing our card data. Thankfully, all funds were returned.”
Earlier this month, Raw Story first reported that cyberthieves stole nearly $700,000 from the re-election campaign committee of Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), with the senator’s campaign so far only recouping a fraction of the lost funds.
But in recent years, numerous other prominent politicians, party committees, trade associations and advocacy groups, representing all points across the political spectrum, have become victims of thievery.
Among them: the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign committee of Joe Biden, which lost at least $71,000, and the Republican National Committee. Rep. Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), former Democratic presidential candidate and congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and rapper-turned-2020 presidential candidate Ye, formerly Kanye West, also rank among campaign account theft victims.
Political action committees of Google, National Association of Manufacturers, Consumer Technology Association, National Association of Home Builders, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, MoveOn.org, and law firms Akerman LLP and Blank Rome LLP have also experienced theft of various kinds, be it cyber theft, forgeries or check tampering, according to Insider.
Political committees can be particularly vulnerable to cyberthieves because of the nature of campaigns, which often start up quickly, are operated frugally and employ inexperienced staffers, Chris Wysopal, co-founder and chief technology officer for cybersecurity company Veracode, told Raw Story.
Poorly maintained campaign security systems can invite fraudsters — or even rival political operatives or foreign agents — to not only steal campaign money, but swipe sensitive information such as donor lists and strategy documents, he said. Emails are particularly insecure, he added.
“I’m actually surprised we are not seeing more activity like this to influence and harm campaigns,” Wysopal said.
For people who want to harm political committees, “the sky’s the limit,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security has also recently warned political committees that they are “facing cyber-attacks of varied sophistication” from “malicious actors.”
The agency published guidelines for “instilling a culture of digital vigilance” to “put your team in the best position to focus on your campaign priorities instead of the consequences of a cyber incident.”
Recommendations include using two-factor authentication, using stronger passwords, installing security patches for computer systems and defending against phishing attempts where scammers use emails or text messages to dupe campaign staffers into opening links or documents that contain “destructive software”.