NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The controversy over the hacking of millions of South Carolina tax returns turned political on Thursday as Democrats called for an independent investigation into what happened and tax credits for as long as a decade for those who suffered losses through identity theft.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis of Charleston said since Gov. Nikki Haley announced the hacking late last month “instead of answers and solutions, we have received a steady stream of misinformation, constantly changing stories and little to no transparency.”
He spoke in North Charleston as four other Democrats held a news conference in Columbia.
“This administration has allowed a tax to be placed on every single one of us for the rest of our lives, man, woman, and child. A tax requiring us to pay, ourselves, to monitor our credit and financial information for the remainder of our lives,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who ran against Haley in 2010.
“We are demanding and calling on other, more responsible leaders, to help clean up this mess,” he added.
The news conference came the day after a Senate panel in Columbia was told the state’s tax collection agency operated without a computer security chief for nearly a year before a hacker stole millions of taxpayers’ personal data.
Last week Haley said the state did not do enough to prevent the cyber-attack that exposed the personal data of nearly 4 million individual filers and 700,000 businesses. She released a report on the breach compiled by computer security firm Mandiant and said she also accepted the resignation of Department of Revenue Director Jim Etter, effective at the end of the year.
The Democrats said Thursday they want the independent Legislative Audit Council to look into the security breach. They also want the state to pick up the cost of extended credit protection for those whose personal information might be exposed and cover financial losses resulting from the breach.
Last month the state announced that Experian’s ProtectMyID service would provide taxpayers a year of free credit monitoring.
Sheheen called the hacking incident “the mother of all government dysfunction” adding he had held off calling a news conference for several weeks while he waited for the administration to act.
“But at this point, somebody has to speak up for those of us who are taxpayers in South Carolina,” he added.
Haley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said Sheheen was simply grandstanding.
“Throughout Sen. Sheheen’s long career as a political insider, he has never uttered the word ‘cyber-security’ until this hacking incident occurred,” Godfrey said, adding that the governor is continuing to work to make sure South Carolinians are protected from future attacks.
He added the governor has no objection to another review by the Legislative Audit Council, which conducts independent reviews of state agencies and programs.
“Gov. Haley looks forward to working with the General Assembly on ways to further protect and compensate affected taxpayers,” he said. “As for an independent audit, there has already been one, at the governor’s request, but she has no objection to a second one.”
Experts say that the hacking of 4 million South Carolina tax returns is the largest cyber-attack against a state tax agency in the nation’s history.