A claim filed in Mobile County last week alleges an “employee of the License Commission” illegally turned over the personal information of local residents to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s campaign last August and did so under the direction of License Commissioner Kim Hastie.
According to the claim, a license commission employee created a thumb drive containing the personal information of 30,000 Mobile County residents from the license commission database.
“Upon information and belief, the License Commissioner’s secretary provided the thumb-drive to an agent of the Stimpson Campaign for Mayor,” the claim reads. “The Stimpson Campaign utilized the information provided by the License Commissioner’s Office to send a mass e-mail (sic) to all individuals who personal information was placed upon the thumb drive by [the employee].”
Mobile residents Arnita Diamond and LeBarron Yates filed the claim on Aug. 21, but it’s unknown why. Yates declined to comment and calls to Diamond have not been returned.
Hastie caught flack from local media for a mass email she sent out endorsing Stimpson as a candidate on Aug. 26, 2013, though it is unknown if her email is related to the complaint. Citing the potential for litigation, Hastie said she would not comment on the matter.
In a prepared statement, Stimpson downplayed the allegation.
“Our campaign relied on its hired consultants to deliver the most advanced digital campaign possible,” Stimpson said. “They managed and directed all social media and voter outreach efforts with the public. We were assured that all of their efforts in that regard were in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.”
A member of the Stimpson administration confirmed that Mobile-based Strateco L.L.C. was the general consultant for the 2013 campaign.
According to campaign finance records, Strateco, as well as company president Chad Tucker, were indeed paid by Stimpson’s campaign — though they were among other companies like Southern Press. Inc., Third Wave Communications L.L.C. and MDI Media Group.
Though no one affiliated with the Stimpson campaign would speak on the record, a source that “worked closely with the campaign” was willing to speak about the situation under the condition of anonymity.
“Everyday for a year the campaign, which included consultants, contractors and hundreds of volunteers, spent their day collecting email addresses and phone numbers for potential supporters,” the source said. “That included purchasing lists from the state of Alabama and collecting information from people at various events in hopes of building the most detailed list of voters ever created in Mobile.”
Making a rough estimate, the source said between 50,000 to 100,000 email addresses were collected over the course of the year, but the campaign staff wouldn’t have known where each of those came from or the means by which they were obtained.
“I can confidently say that every rule was followed, and nothing was skirted around,” the source said. “If someone gave us something they weren’t suppose to give us, we weren’t aware of it.”
That source went on to say they couldn’t confirm any email addresses obtained by the Stimpson campaign that came from Hastie or her office.
Tyler Pritchett, an attorney with the Mobile County License Commission, wouldn’t go into much detail, but did say the person specifically mentioned in the claim “wasn’t a former employee,” as the claim implied.
“As of right now, the commissioner knows of the claim, but she and the License Commission don’t want to go into any of the specifics,” Pritchett said.
Lagniappe is choosing not to name the “employee” who allegedly copied the emails, because his employment has yet to be verified.
According to county attorney Jay Ross, the county has turned the matter over to a third-party administrator who will investigate the allegations. He also said the citizens filing the claim would still have the right to file a lawsuit during the process of the investigation.
“The county is self-insured for the first $300,000 of any claim,” Ross said. “After that there can be additional coverage depending on the nature and type of the claim.”
This most recent claim suggests that Title 18 U.S. Code Section 2721 assess a $2,500-per-violation penalty for any personal information disseminated for unapproved reasons. If proven to be accurate, that fee could theoretically be applied to each of the 30,000 bits of information allegedly given to the Stimpson campaign.
Title 18 Section 2721 doesn’t mention a fee in writing, but it does expressly forbid any department of motor vehicles, and any officer, employee, or contractor thereof, from knowingly disclosing or otherwise making personal information available to any person or entity.
Though there are several exceptions, none of those listed would apply to a political campaign, as is suggested in Yates and Diamond’s claim.