The re-election campaign of two-term Republican Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas reported that someone on July 7 made an “unauthorized” withdrawal from its campaign account, according to Federal Election Commission records reviewed by Raw Story.
The money went to an outfit listed as “Misty J Productions,” although there’s no evidence in federal campaign or corporate organization records that such a firm exists.
Total amount taken from the Nehls for Congress committee: $157,626.
“There was an unauthorized wire transfer initiated through fraudulent means on our campaign account,” Nehls spokesman Taylor Hulsey confirmed to Raw Story.
The Nehls campaign indicated in federal records that it has so far recouped $137,626 of the lost money.
Nehls’ office declined to answer specific questions about the fraud incident, including the status of any criminal investigation and whether a perpetrator has been identified.
Hulsey did not elaborate on what steps the congressman’s campaign committee has instituted to defend against additional theft attempts.
“We are unable to comment further as all information has been submitted to the FBI for criminal investigation,” Hulsey said.
The FBI, which does not generally comment on open investigations, did not respond to a request for comment.
Nehls himself is a former law enforcement official, having served as the sheriff of Fort Bend County, Texas — immediately southwest of Houston — before voters elected him to Congress in 2020.
A staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, Nehls rose to national prominence during his first week in office when he helped U.S. Capitol Police officers prevent rioters from entering the U.S. House of Representatives chambers on January 6, 2021.
Nehls would later call the Democrat-dominated House select committee investigating the January 6 attack, on which Nehls was initially slated to serve, a “partisan circus” that only sought to “distract the voters from their numerous failures and do everything they can to destroy Republicans and President Trump.”
‘WHERE THE MONEY IS’
Willie Sutton once said he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.”
Cybercriminals and check trawlers have increasingly targeted political campaigns, which often accumulate big money quickly but lack security measures that adequately safeguard their hauls.
Nehls is hardly alone in his financial misfortune.
Federal records reviewed this month by Raw Story also indicate that former Rep. John Katko, a Republican who until January represented a congressional district spanning Central New York, was hit on Christmas Eve with $14,000 worth of “fraudulent bank debits.”
Katko, who recently joined Washington, D.C., lobbying firm HillEast Group, according to Politico, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
But in a Jan. 30 letter to the FEC, the Katko campaign stated that the lost $14,000 “was related to fraudulent checks processed thru the committee bank account” and that “the committee is working with the bank to retrieve the funds. This fraud was external and not caused by committee personnel.”
Although no longer in office, Katko’s campaign committee technically remains open and active — and still had more than $902,000 remaining in its account as of Dec. 31, according to a federal campaign finance disclosure.
Raw Story in recent days has identified several other Republican members of Congress who’ve been victimized by fraudsters in what’s fast becoming open season on politicians’ campaign accounts.
Money losers include Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas ($690,000), Rep. Neal Dunn of Florida ($10,855), Rep. Russell Fry of South Carolina ($2,607.98) and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida ($362.04).
The Republican National Committee and Rep. Diana Harshbarger (R-TN) also experienced recent campaign cash thefts.
The problem isn’t unique to Republicans, either: President Joe Biden’s 2020 Democratic presidential campaign committee lost at least $71,000.
One-time Democratic presidential candidate and congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and rapper-turned-2020 presidential candidate Ye, formerly Kanye West, are among others who reported money stolen from their political accounts.
Meanwhile, the 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.
MORE THEFT TO COME?
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, recently 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”.
On January 25, the FEC sent Nehls for Congress a letter asking the campaign for more details about its theft-of-funds situation.
“Although the Commission may take further legal action regarding this apparent improper use of Committee funds, any further clarifying information that you can provide will be taken into consideration,” agency senior campaign finance and reviewing analyst Ryan Furman wrote.
The FEC has also instituted a "safe harbor" provision that encourages political committees to establish "internal controls" that help "prevent misappropriations and associated misreporting" of their campaign finance accounting, agency spokesman Christian Hilland told Raw Story.
Per the FEC's "safe harbor" provision, the commission "does not intend to seek civil penalties against a political committee for filing incorrect reports due to the misappropriation of committee funds if the committee has the specified safeguards in place.”
Nehls’ campaign committee reported $386,478 cash on hand as of Dec. 31, according to FEC records.