Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is alleging that thieves hacked his email account and stole $46,000 from his re-election campaign in a "sophisticated" scheme earlier this year.
"Hopefully we can identify the people who did it," Pan said. "That will send a signal that they can’t just get away with it, and the people who try these things can get caught."
Pan said the FBI and California Highway Patrol are investigating the campaign theft, which was also reported to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
It's unclear how the unknown suspects were able to break into his email account in mid-February. Pan said he is the only person with permitted access to the account.
The hackers appeared to study the campaign's email pattern of approving payments, pretended to be him and sent a fake invoice to his treasurer requesting $46,000 to a vaccine-related nonprofit organization in mid-February, Pan said. He said the responsible parties were able to block communications with other people to hide their trail.
Pan is a doctor and has drawn the ire of a fervent community of activists who oppose his legislative work to toughen vaccination requirements for schoolchildren. Pan said there's no evidence to suggest anyone associated with the anti-vaccination movement was actually involved in the theft, but he's suspicious given violent threats he's endured and prior interactions with his opponents. Among other related legislation, Pan successfully removed personal belief exemptions for vaccines in 2015.
The suspects, acting as the senator, asked for a check to be written out to an individual in Texas, whom Pan declined to name, and his treasurer complied after an email exchange.
"She was going back and forth via email with supposedly me trying to confirm this is what I really wanted to do," Pan said of his treasurer. "It speaks to really thinking about what kind of processes we have in place for trying to protect our respective campaigns and organizations with money involved."
Pan said he now asks his treasurer to confirm any unusual requests through two means of communication in the future. The senator expects to disclose the theft in campaign finance filings on Thursday.
Bob Stern, who co-authored California's Political Reform Act and previously served as president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, described this type of theft as rare in state political campaigns.
"I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and this is the first time I’ve heard of something like this," Stern said. He added that the situation should warn other campaigns to be on guard.
The loss of $46,000 likely won't have any major impact on Pan's re-election effort in Senate District 6, which includes much of Sacramento County and West Sacramento in Yolo County. He held more $450,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2017 and is running against three other candidates who reported no money or very limited campaign funds at the same time.
"Certainly it’s not helpful," Pan said. "The strength of my campaign is not the amount of money I raise but the coalition and support I have in the community from people who want to see the work I’m doing for California continue. "