South Carolina's Democrats see tax agency security breach as key campaign issue

The state Democratic Party began a week-long effort Monday to take advantage of what it sees as the biggest governmental failure during Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration – last year’s hacking of the financial information of 6.4 million state taxpayers.

Jamie Harrison, the state Democratic Party chairman, said at a news conference in front of Charleston City Hall that his party would be holding a series of silent vigils across the state over what he called the largest such breach in the nation’s history. The first vigil is set for Tuesday in Greenville, and others have been set for Horry County, Columbia and Anderson, with more expected.

Harrison blasted Haley for failing to make sure the state’s computers were secure, especially those at the Department of Revenue, where the hacking occurred, and for then not telling the public about it for about two weeks.

He called the delay a “cover-up” to give the governor two weeks to hire a public relations firm to “clean up” the mess. “Her instinct was simply to hide it,” he said.

Haley’s administration has repeatedly said the delay was to give federal and state law enforcement an opportunity track down the hacker, something that has failed so far.

On Monday, Haley’s spokesman, Doug Mayer said, “From day one, Governor Haley’s focus has been on working with law enforcement to catch the criminal who attacked our state, and on protecting our citizens from further harm by massively upgrading our cyber-security systems and making sure everyone has identity theft protection.”

Mayer also characterized Harrison’s silent vigils as being “political stunts” taking advantage of taxpayers whose finances are at risk. ”Is this a joke?” he asked.

To that, South Carolina Democratic Party spokeswoman Kristin Sosaine shot back, “It’s not funny that Nikki Haley hid the horrible hacking that exposed millions to identity theft for two weeks while people were at risk.”

Harrison announced the silent vigils campaign on the one-year anniversary of when Haley’s office publicly revealed the hacking. He said one test of leadership is how a leader handles a crisis, and that Haley failed that leadership test.

Haley’s spokesmen have repeatedly characterized Haley’s actions in the wake of the hacking as demonstrating effective and swift response.

Harrison’s press conference confirmed that Democrats see the hacking and Haley’s response to it as a possible way to galvanize popular support for Democrats and opposition to the governor.

Democratic challenger State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden has said he sees the hacking scandal as revealing a “pattern of incompetence and a culture of secrecy” in Haley’s administration.

Despite the theft of millions of taxpayers’ financial information, including their names, Social Security numbers and names of dependents, state and federal law enforcement officials say they know of no instance in which anyone lost anything or their identity was stolen as a result of the hacking. But, officials concede, it would be hard to know for sure.

Authorities have said they tracked the source of the hacking to one country, believed to be Russia.

In order to protect taxpayers and other victims of the hacking, South Carolina’s government has purchased a second year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. But individuals must sign up to receive the protection. The state hired CSID, an Austin, Texas-based provider of global identity protection and fraud detection technologies.

Hacking victims can begin signing up on Thursday by going to: or by calling 855-880-2743.

Since the hacking, computers at the Department of Revenue have been blanketed with security measures and department staff have undergone cyber-security training. Other state agencies also are revamping their cyber-security methods and upgrading computer security systems. The state also is standardizing its cyber-security procedures.

Still, Haley spokesman Mayer noted, nothing is foolproof. “Technology in cybercrimes is evolving every day, so no one can ever say we are completely safe, but we can say without any doubt that we are far safer now than we’ve ever been before in South Carolina.”

Unfortunately for the 6.4 million hacking victims their information in already out there. And Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell has said the state may need to keep paying for credit protection for them for the foreseeable future.

Reach Doug Pardue at 937-5558