Bernie Sanders Campaign Suing DNC for Access to Voter Data

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DEM 2016 Sanders Socialism
Photo: Carolyn Kaster/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Bernie Sanders came so close to having a perfect Thursday.

In the morning, the insurgent presidential candidate announced that he had received more than 2 million individual contributions over the course of the campaign and more than $3 million in donations since Monday. Sanders proceeded to accept the endorsement of the Communications Workers of America — the largest labor organization to “feel the Bern” yet this cycle. Finally, just after noon, the million-member liberal group Democracy for America decided to honor America’s favorite democratic socialist with its first-ever presidential endorsement.

That string of triumphs prompted Politico to top its site with the headline “Bernie Sanders wins the day.” But then, minutes before midnight on the East Coast, the Sanders campaign did its best New York Giants impression and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

At that late hour, the Washington Post reported that the Democratic National Committee had barred the Sanders campaign from accessing its database of likely Democratic voters, after a Sanders staffer viewed confidential voter information assembled by the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The DNC maintains a 50-state “voter file” that’s shared by all of the Democratic presidential campaigns. But the committee’s software also allows candidates to customize their individual databases by adding their own proprietary voter information to the party’s master list. The confidentiality of this original data is supposed to be ensured by a series of firewalls.

But earlier this week, those walls briefly broke down. NGP VAN, the vendor responsible for overseeing the master file, told the Post that all of the campaigns’ internal “voter ID” data became mutually accessible for a 30-minute period on Wednesday.

A DNC official told BuzzFeed that during that brief window, someone on the Sanders campaign discovered the breach and took a peek at the Clinton campaign’s data before reporting the glitch to NGP VAN. On Friday, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on CNN, “They not only viewed it, but they exported it and they downloaded it … over the course of approximately 45 minutes.” According to Bloomberg, “four accounts associated with the Sanders team” accessed the data on Wednesday morning, including national data director Josh Uretsky, who was fired. Uretsky, who saved some of the Clinton data, told CNN, “We knew there was a security breach in the data, and we were just trying to understand it and what was happening.” Uretsky added that the Sanders campaign also found a “bad breach” in NGP VAN’s system in October. 

He added to MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, “It’s like if somebody leaves the front door open and you left a note inside the front door saying ‘you left the door open,” and then maybe you would check the side door to make sure that door was closed.”

Wasserman Schultz conjured a similar image to explain why the DNC was right to be angry. “That is just like if you walked into someone’s home when the door was unlocked and took things that don’t belong to you in order to use them for your own benefit. That’s inappropriate. Unacceptable.”

The DNC will not allow the Sanders campaign to regain access to the party’s voter list until his campaign “proves” that it no longer has access to any ill-gotten Clinton data. The Sanders campaign is not happy about this and has accused the party leadership of showing favoritism for Clinton. “We are announcing today that if the DNC continues to hold our data hostage, and continues to try to attack the heart and soul of our campaign, we will be in federal court this afternoon seeking an immediate injunction,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a press conference on Friday

A few hours later, the campaign sued the DNC, arguing in its lawsuit that the “loss of DNC support could significantly disadvantage, if not cripple, a Democratic candidate’s campaign for public office” — and that the party was violating the agreement it made with all campaigns using the voter file. The campaign notes that the data it currently cannot access has helped the campaign raise millions. The suit called for an immediate restoration of the campaign’s access to their data, as well as $600,000 in damages. 

Friday afternoon, Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon released a statement “asking that the Sanders campaign and the DNC work expeditiously to ensure that our data is not in the Sanders campaign’s account and that the Sanders campaign only have access to their own data.” Shortly after, he began tweeting more pointed criticisms of the Sanders campaign. 

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook later called the breach “very egregious” and “totally unacceptable,” adding, “Our data was stolen.” Mook also said the breach may have been “a violation of the law.”

Clinton and Sanders will have to debate each other Saturday night.


Update: The Sanders campaign has regained access to their data at the DNC.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that an intern was fired for the data snafu. Later reports revealed that the national data director was the staffer who was fired.