In late December 2019, a staff member with the North Carolina Republican Party downloaded an email list with the contact information of more than 65,000 conservatives from across the state. The exporting of that data amounted to what at least two GOP operatives called the "largest breach of proprietary information in the history of the state party."
That email list is considered one of the party’s most valuable assets – potentially worth more than $100,000.
"We have been made aware that an employee downloaded the entire 65,000 person NCGOP email contact database and gave it to one statewide campaign," wrote NCGOP Central Committee member Harvey West Jr., in a confidential memo to General Counsel Steve Long on February 18th. The memo was initially leaked and posted on Facebook. WUNC then independently obtained a copy of the email. West confirmed to WUNC that he wrote the memo.
It remains unconfirmed precisely where the list went next, or whom may be benefitting from its contents. The February 18th memo also states:
- This is a gross violation of the Plan of Organization that requires neutrality in primary races.
- It is a violation of the employee handbook, and the non-disclosure agreement.
- The parties confidential e-mail list is one of the most valuable assets the party possess and giving it to anyway is of serious concern. While I am aware, we sometimes engage in contractual donor list exchanges, I am not aware we have ever shared out email list.
- E-mail acquisition of a high value list such as this, would be in the tens if not a hundred thousand dollars, if calculated a two dollars per email address, which is about the cost of purchase. While I am not an attorney, it seems we will have to report this as an in-kind contribution to this campaign, opening us up to all kinds of issues.
"I am aware of screen shots that clearly show this was done," the memo further reads.
Two GOP operatives provided a screen shot to WUNC. An additional Central Committee member confirmed the image. That screen shot indicates that a NCGOP staff member made a 54 MB download on December 30th, at 10:51am. The staffer exported 65,482 rows using the party’s Nation Builder software. The download took 22 minutes.
WUNC has chosen not to name that staff member as no one has gone on the record to accuse the staffer by name. WUNC posed a series of questions to the staff member in question. The staffer declined to comment for this story.
Nearly two months after the December 30th data breach, the staff member remains employed by the party. It is unclear if any disciplinary action was taken. Three sources who spoke to WUNC for this story expressed frustration that the matter was not dealt with promptly.
Multiple sources who spoke to WUNC said the export was not authorized. WUNC asked NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley a series of questions in an email. The first questions were whether he was aware the download had taken place and whether he or any other Republican Party staff member had authorized it. Those questions went unanswered until this story was published. In a text message responding to this story, NCGOP Communications Director Jeff Hauser said, “It wasn’t an unauthorized export of the list. Chairman Whatley did authorize it as part of the staffer’s normal job duties.”
WUNC also asked Chairman Whatley whether the list was provided to a statewide political candidate; and if any disciplinary action had taken place. Executive Director Jonathan Sink offered an email response:
"We have conducted a thorough review of the allegations that a member of the NCGOP staff inappropriately aided a candidate involved in a primary contest and determined that there is absolutely no evidence to support these allegations. NCGOP’s leadership and staff take our obligations to stay neutral in all primary races seriously and look forward to working with all of our candidates as we move past Tuesday’s primaries into the general election."
If the email list was in fact provided to a political campaign, it would need to be reported as an in-kind contribution, because of its value. To date, no state campaign has reported such a contribution.
In the February 18th memo from Harvey West to the NCGOP General Counsel, he asks why the Central Committee was not made fully aware of the incident. West also suggests that ‘immediate emergency action’ be taken.
The NCGOP Central Committee will meet in Raleigh on Saturday.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story described the download as unauthorized. The story has been updated to reflect contradictory information from different sources about whether the download was authorized.