How does someone steal $700,000 from a senator's campaign in the midst of an election?
Published in Political News
WASHINGTON — Two weeks after Sen. Jerry Moran won his third term representing Kansas in the U.S. Senate, his campaign treasurer Timothy Gottschalk called the Republic County Sheriff’s Office and asked an officer to come to his office.
In the final six weeks leading up to the election, Moran’s campaign spent more than $2 million to have his face featured on television screens across the state. To get its ads on TV, the campaign used a Virginia-based company called SRCP Media. The media buyer reserved time slots for the ads in Kansas media markets and invoiced the campaign. The campaign then sent the money to SRCP Media, sometimes as much as $788,959 at a time.
So much money was moving from the campaign that it didn’t notice on Oct. 25, when an invoice for $345,000 for payment to SRCP Media came from an email address the company hadn’t been using. The campaign didn’t notice when it happened a second time, either, for the same amount, a day after the election.
It wasn’t until Moran’s team got a notification from Astra Bank, a small bank with seven branches in Kansas and one in Nebraska, that the campaign looked into its invoices. Someone had created an invoice that looked like one from SRCP Media, but had changed the account and routing numbers. The email it came from did not match the email used by SRCP Media.
More than two months later, it remains unclear who stole the money from the campaign. The Republic County Sheriff’s office handed it off to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which handed it off to the FBI, according to a police report obtained through the Kansas Open Records Act.
While the FBI’s Kansas City office would not say whether it was investigating the case, both the Moran campaign and SRCP Media say they are cooperating with investigators.
Both SRCP Media and the Moran campaign declined to comment on the record.
Even without a culprit, the theft exposes a constellation of vulnerabilities in modern day political campaigns, where millions often move through small, shoe-string operations with little to no security measures in place to protect themselves against online fraud.
“It’s not surprising that, given the the propensity of major donors to give in large amounts to incumbents, that a long-term member of Congress could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in criminal activity and not have that be a significant event,” said Adav Noti, the senior vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government watchdog that focuses on campaign finance and elections.
A spokesman for the Federal Elections Commission would not say whether other campaigns have reported similar thefts from their campaign accounts this year.
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