The Wisconsin Republican Party claims hackers stole $2.3 million from an account being used to help re-elect President Donald Trump in the competitive battleground state. Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt told the Associated Press Thursday the party noticed suspicious activity on Oct. 22 and they contacted the FBI. Although Hitt said the FBI was investigating the situation, the FBI told the AP it could is "not permitted to confirm or deny an investigation." Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg said it was not asked to investigate.
The alleged hack was found less than two weeks before Election Day, and while Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden remain in a tight race for the state's 10 electoral votes. Trump won the state over Hillary Clinton by less than 23,000 votes in 2016. Both Trump and Biden are campaigning in Wisconsin on Friday.
"There's no doubt RPW is now at a disadvantage with that money being gone," Hitt told Politico, adding that the money was needed so the party and campaign could make quick decisions with the election just days away. He said hackers manipulated invoices from four vendors hired to send out pro-Trump mail directly to voters and to make pro-Trump hats and other material to hand out to supporters. According to Hitt, the invoices were changed so the party was actually paying hackers instead of vendors. Hitt said the hack appears to have started with a phishing attempt.
The alleged hack also created tension between the Trump campaign and the state Republican party, according to the AP. Trump campaign officials in the state were not happy that they learned about the alleged hack from media reports and were not immediately briefed on its impact, a Trump campaign official told the AP. However, Trump’s director of battleground strategy, Nick Trainer, told the AP the national Trump campaign was told about the alleged attack immediately.
The national Republican party also told the AP they were in contact with the state party. "We have been in contact with the state party and are assisting them through this process," Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens told the AP. “The RNC never left Wisconsin after 2016, and we are confident that our ground game and the millions we are spending on TV and digital will deliver us another win there in 2020.”
The $2.3 million came from the Republican state party's federal account, which had $1.1 million in it as of Thursday, reports the AP. The money is earmarked for federal races and donations are capped at $10,000 per person in a calendar year. The Wisconsin Democratic Party's funding has far outpaced Republicans, raising $59 million over two years, compared to the Republicans' $23.7 million, according to campaign finance reports.