Democratic candidate uses unproven hacking claim to raise funds

Posted by Jerry Zremski, Buffalo News on March 1, 2014 4:12pm

Five months after Democratic congressional candidate Martha Robertson raised big bucks off an unproven claim that Republicans tried hacking her website, GOP operatives are accusing her of fraud.

Tompkins County Republican Chairman James Drader last week filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections about Robertson’s Sept. 30 fundraising email, in which she said: “Our web manager just caught GOP ops trying to shut down my website! I cannot believe it!”

So far, Robertson – who is challenging Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, in the Southern Tier’s 23rd district – has not offered any public proof of any such attack.

That fact prompted Drader to say she has violated the state Fair Election Code’s prohibition on “the preparation or distribution of any fraudulent, forged or falsely identified writing.”

“Robertson attempted to undermine both the Republican Party and the electoral process by soliciting money via an email that included an unsubstantiated and false claim,” Drader said.

While it’s impossible to know how much money Robertson raised on Sept. 30 before and after sending that email, her campaign finance report shows that she raised $31,620 in personal contributions on that day. That’s more than a third of her total for the entire quarter.

After receiving Drader’s complaint on Friday, The Buffalo News asked the Robertson campaign to publicly release the database cache that would show activity on her website last Sept. 30, but the campaign refused. In addition, Robertson campaign manager Jordanna Zeigler refused to answer a series of detailed emailed questions about the incident, instead issuing a statement attacking Reed by repeating the conclusion of a Buffalo News story of a week ago.

“While the attack on our website was real, this Republican complaint is a desperate smokescreen to distract the public from the problems of Congressman Tom Reed, who appears to have allowed a law firm controlled by his family to use his name and receive profits in clear violation of House ethics rules,” Zeigler’s statement said.

In a telephone conversation, Zeigler also refused to speak on the record about whether Robertson actually wrote the email, whether she approved of it before it went out and whether there was any proof that the website attack came from Republican operatives. Robertson’s fundraising email appeared on the last day of the fundraising quarter – a day when all campaigns make last-minute appeals to boost their quarterly totals.

Republicans “know we have less than six hours left to our major deadline at midnight!” the email from Robertson said. “I need your help to fight back. Please click on the link below to help me reach our goal. We are just $6,520 short. PLEASE call us if the page is not working … anytime until midnight!”

Republicans said they smelled something foul and they have been hammering Robertson about it ever since. Don Leonard, the Tioga County GOP chairman, even sent a letter to the Buffalo office of the FBI in October to ask for an investigation, but he said Friday that he never received a response.

Robertson has remained mum on the issue ever since an October interview in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, in which she vowed to hire a cybersecurity firm to investigate the matter.

But her latest campaign finance filing, for the quarter ending Dec. 31, shows no payment to any such firm. Zeigler said the campaign decided its Internet security is adequate, meaning there was no need to spend money on an investigation.

Source: Buffalo News