‘Phishing’ scam or ‘political stunt’ at Racine Unified?

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Staff in the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) last month received a mass email soliciting them to work on a national campaign to “increase the number of Democrats who vote in the coming election.”

The email  appeared to have been sent from the district account of Kristin Althoff, teacher and chair of the math department at Racine’s Horlick High School.

An RUSD spokeswoman asserts Althoff’s email was hacked in a “phishing” scheme, but the solicitation is raising concerns of electioneering with taxpayer-funded resources following revelations of Democratic Party operatives working with the city of Milwaukee on a get-out-the-vote campaign.

Postcards to Swing States

The mass email, sent at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11,  was from a group identifying itself as the Progressive Turnout Project. It included a job description.

“We seek interested candidates that would walk in their own communities and neighborhood to deliver postcards to Democrats, this is focused on increasing the number of Democrats who vote in the coming election.You would be required to print copies of postcard template sent to you and you’ll simply place the postcards at the doors of each voter list provided to you in your neighborhood,” the email stated.

The position, according to the email, “offers $500 per list(20) completed.”

Interested parties were asked to contact Reid McCollum, director of Postcard Program, with personal email address for more information.

McCollum is one of the founders of the Chicago-based Postcards to Swing States, and a leader in the Progressive Turnout Project, which bills itself as the “largest voter contact organization in the country, specifically dedicated to mobilizing the Democratic Party and defending democracy.” Defending democracy is electing Democrats, according to the liberal group created to knock President Trump out of office in 2020.

“Help us write postcards to voters to defend the Democratic House majority in November!” the group’s website states. “If you live in AZ, GA, NC, NH, NV, PA or WI, we have a new program called Neighborhood Letters that allows you to connect with Democratic voters in your own neighborhood.”

‘Political stunt’

Understandably, some in the Racine School District were alarmed.

“I thought it was a stunt, a political stunt,” said Greg Klema, a substitute teacher in the district who received the email. He wants to know if the political email was legal.

It isn’t. Government resources can’t be used to promote candidates or political parties — even in heavily liberal school districts like Racine Unified.

That’s probably why the district sent a follow-up email to all RUSD staff with an explanation. The email was described as a “phishing email of a political nature” that was sent to hundreds of RUSD staff.

“If you received this email from Kristin Althoff please delete it right away. Unfortunately, Ms. Althoff’s email account was hacked and the email was sent without her knowledge,” the alert stated.

Stacy Tapp, RUSD’s chief communication and community engagement director, said the district’s IT department investigated the suspicious email immediately. Althoff claimed she didn’t send it. Tapp said the investigation found “her email was being used from Nigeria. We tracked the IP address and it was sent from Nigeria.” Althoff told district officials she was on a site and she was embarrassed she fell for the scam.

“We’re doing a ton of education with our staff right now. We require cyber security training now,” Tapp said.

Althoff’s Facebook page includes the usual liberal icons, a Black Lives Matter sign, an homage to the late liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was in a local theater production of the comedy “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche.” But there’s nothing online to suggest she’s an active Democratic Party activist.

But Klema doubts the hacked story. He said liberal politicking on school time has been an issue in the past.

Racine’s political solicitation incident also comes to light as details of Democrat operatives working with the Milwaukee Mayor’s office and the city’s Elections Commission on a voter “canvassing” campaign surface.

As Empower Wisconsin first reported on Wednesday, communications obtained in an open records request show longtime Dem operative Sachin Chheda telling Mayor Cavalier Johnson and his staff what to say about the Wisconsin Votes 2022 GOTV campaign. The effort is being funded by a liberal activist group with close ties to the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), the leftist nonprofit richly funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Racine, run by one of the most partisan Democrat mayors in the state, was the home of CTCL’s Wisconsin election grants that pumped millions of dollars into the state’s five-largest and Dam-heavy cities. Democrat Party operatives and liberal activists were embedded in the so-called “WI-5” election offices.

Klema said the phishing story looks fishy, and he predicts no one will be held accountable for the political email in RUSD.

“Put the shoe on other foot (if Republicans would have been involved in the email, Democrats) would have demanded a major investigation at the state level to find out how this happened,” he said.

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 3. 2022

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