GOP Donors' Personal Data Disclosed in RNC Privacy Slip

October 11, 2006

Russell Berman, The New York Sun

In a breach of privacy, the Republican National Committee erroneously e-mailed a list that contained the names, races, and Social Security numbers of dozens of top Republican donors and that identified two of the contributors as Muslim to this reporter.

In the course of preparing for a Washington fund-raiser on Friday headlined by President Bush, an RNC staffer, Dee Dee Lancaster, intended to e-mail a security list of confirmed guests to other event planners and the Secret Service. But Ms. Lancaster mistyped one of the addresses, and the e-mail wound up in the Gmail account of this reporter.

The RNC confirmed the slip-up, which raised questions about how the committee handles sensitive personal information and what records it keeps of its supporters.The e-mail was sent to four other addresses, including one with the Secret Service.

The attached spreadsheet of 76 guests included category headings with Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and "race." The race of all but three were listed as "Caucasian." One was identified as "Asian," and the race of two others, Malik and Seeme Hasan, was listed as "Muslim."

The classification drew criticism from Mrs. Hasan, who founded a group called Muslims for Bush and who, along with her husband, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican committees and candidates in recent years.

"The only word I can think of is not very nice," Mrs. Hasan said yesterday in a telephone interview from her home in Colorado.

"I think that whoever wrote this obviously has no knowledge, because Muslim is not a race. It is a religion," she said.

Mrs. Hasan described herself as "a very big Republican supporter" and said she had discussed issued faced by American Muslims several times with President Bush and other GOP leaders. She said later yesterday that she had called the Republican National Committee to protest the labeling of her and her husband, a neurologist and HMO executive.

Mrs. Hasan said she and Dr. Hasan planned to attend the fund-raiser, a luncheon at Evermay, a mansion in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The event is being held for members of Team 100 and Republican Regents, two high-level donor groups in the party.

Officials said yesterday that errors by both the RNC and the Secret Service had contributed to the inclusion of racial and religious data on the security list. Until a year ago, the Secret Service did require race as part of its standard background check for guests at events involving the president. Following complaints, including one from the White House press corps, the practice ended. But the Secret Service requested racial information for Friday's luncheon, a spokesman for the agency, Eric Zahren, said.

"It was wrong. It should not have been done," Mr. Zahren told The New York Sun.

Mr. Bush himself said of racial profiling in July of 2001, "It's wrong in America, and we've got to get rid of it."

As for the listing of Muslim as a race, the RNC took the blame. "This was an error on the part of a staffer here at the RNC, and it was unfortunate," a committee spokeswoman, Tracey Schmitt, said. She called the error "regrettable," but she did not say whether the RNC keeps religious data on its supporters.

Mr. Zahren said the Secret Service "did not request that, and we would not request that."

The e-mailing of sensitive personal information comes weeks after the executive director of the Democratic National Committee, Tom McMahon, sent a letter to the RNC's chief of staff, Kelley McCullough, alerting her to security flaws in the Web site.

"People should not feel that their crucial data is threatened because they participate in the political process," a spokesman for the DNC, Damien LaVera, said yesterday.

The use of e-mail for background information is "not the preferred method" for the Secret Service, Mr. Zahren said, although there is no prohibition against it. The agency requests that guests provide their Social Security numbers, but they are free to decline.

"We go to great lengths to safeguard this sensitive information once it is in our possession," he said.

main page ATTRITION feedback