COLUMBIA, SC — Well, that didn’t take long.
On the first day of the 2013 legislative session, likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen took to the state Senate floor to introduce a resolution to apologize formally to S.C. taxpayers for the data breach at the state Department of Revenue.
Sheheen, a Kershaw County Democrat who lost narrowly to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley in 2010, never mentioned the governor’s name. But his comments on the Senate floor left little doubt about who he was referring to.
“My parents taught me when something wrong happens, and you or your company or whoever you are affiliated with caused that or played a role in that, that you begin to restore that confidence by admitting it and asking for forgiveness,” Sheheen said. “I’m sure many of you have patiently waited in the hopes that that message would get sent, that the state of South Carolina is sorry ... and it looks to me like we, the Senate and the House, are going to have to do that on behalf of our state government.”
Reaction from the governor’s office was swift, with Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey releasing a statement. “It’s a political stunt, but one we have no problem with as long as the apology covers the decade-plus Vince was in the South Carolina Legislature and never once mentioned cyber-security.”
Senate Democrats upped the ante, making a motion to make every senator automatically a co-sponsor of the apology. But Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, objected, saying he would like to read the resolution before he put his name on it.
Democrats also tried to fast track the apology by bypassing the committee process. But another Republican, state Sen. Hugh Leatherman of Florence, objected.
Sheheen later released a statement calling Haley’s response a “petty political attack.”
“It is sad that the governor attacks me, personally, when I’m simply trying to do what Gov. Haley should have done months ago, be honest with the people of our state,” Sheheen said. “Gov. Haley should be joining me, instead of attacking me.”
In September, a computer hacker broke into the Revenue Department’s files and stole the state tax records of 3.8 million people with 1.9 million dependents and 700,000 S.C. businesses. The Revenue Department is a cabinet agency, meaning it reports directly to Haley, and many Democrats have used the hacking to attack the governor for not protecting sensitive information.
Haley has pushed back, arranging for a year’s worth of credit monitoring for every South Carolinian and lifetime credit-fraud resolution assistance.
Haley has not apologized for the breach but has said the state should have done more to protect taxpayer’s financial information. She said the state was following Internal Revenue Service regulations that do not require encrypting data resting in computer servers. The Revenue Department now says it is encrypting that data.
Haley also agreed to let Revenue Department director Jim Etter leave at the end of 2012.
Staff writer Andrew Shain contributed to this report. Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.