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DNC Agrees To Give Voter Data Access Back To Sanders Campaign

The presidential campaign filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday after the Democratic National Committee barred its aides from accessing voter data.

Originally posted on
Updated on

UPDATE

A little past midnight Saturday, the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders announced that the campaign's access to key voter data — which had been shut off and was the subject of a lawsuit filed late Friday afternoon — would be restored in the morning.

The statements, however, made clear that the resolution was not a friendly one.

"The Sanders campaign has now complied with the DNC’s request to provide the information that we have requested of them," DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in her statement. "Based on this information, we are restoring the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter file, but will continue to investigate to ensure that the data that was inappropriately accessed has been deleted and is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign."

The Sanders campaign statement, on the other hand, declared that the DNC "capitulated and agreed to reinstate" access to the database.

"The information we provided tonight is essentially the same information we already sent them by email on Thursday," Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in the statement. "Clearly, they were very concerned about their prospects in court."

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders's campaign on Friday filed a federal lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee after aides were barred from accessing voter data collected and compiled by the campaign.

The complaint demands that the DNC restore its access to the data and calls for at least $75,000 in damages. It states that a request for a temporary restraining order will be forthcoming "immediately."

Asked Friday evening when the filling was expected, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs told BuzzFeed News, "Lawyers are working into the night."

The suit comes after the DNC penalized the Sanders campaign for gaining access to Hillary Clinton's private voter data information, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday.

At a press conference Friday, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver railed against the DNC for its "inappropriate reaction," and accused the committee of denying the campaign access to its own voter information.

"We are announcing today that if the DNC continues to hold our campaign hostage, we will be in federal court this afternoon seeking immediate relief," he said.

The lawsuit has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, nominated to the federal district court in D.C. by President Obama at the end of 2013. After approval from the Senate, she took the bench in June 2014.

The complaint offers a glimpse into the Sanders campaign, stating for example that over three days in December it managed to raise more than $2.4 million. "Most of this money came from individual donors identified through, inter alia, the strategic use of Voter Data," it stated.

The Sanders campaign estimated the costs of being cut off from the data "exceed $600,000 per day."

A similar security breach happened during the 2008 presidential primaries, the complaint said, and ended up transmitting confidential information to another still-prominent candidate: Clinton.

The information breach came through the NGP VAN, which allowed a short window of time for access to crucial voter ID statistics.

The campaign aide who briefly accessed Clinton's files was immediately fired after the incident.

The complaint offers new details about how the security breach worked through the Sanders campaign. Indeed, it states that "several" staff members viewed and accessed confidential information, though "most" of them did so inadvertently. The breach then prompted an internal investigation which revealed "that one individual may have repeatedly accessed" the information. That person was then fired.

Ultimately, the complaint alleges, the "inadvertent access" of confidential information didn't actually violate the Sanders campaign's contract with the DNC, and the DNC didn't give the campaign a contractually-required notice that it was cutting them off.

"The Campaign should not be punished for the carelessness of the DNC and its third-party vendor," the complaint adds.

Weaver said the Sanders campaign would seek a complete audit of the DNC's operations from the beginning of campaigning through the present. Such a probe would include a similar data breach in August which resulted in exposed data from the Sanders campaign.

Weaver said that the issue was brought to the DNC and they were assured it would not happen again.

He called the DNC's response to Wednesday's breach "inappropriate," and charged the DNC with trying to sabotage their campaign.

"I would like to see another instance where a presidential campaign was locked out of its own volunteer data," Weaver said.

In a statement Friday, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said a decision on the Sanders campaign's access to data will be made after the DNC gets a "full accounting" of what happened.

"Once the DNC became aware that the Sanders campaign had inappropriately and systematically accessed Clinton campaign data, and in doing so violated the agreement that all the presidential campaigns have signed with the DNC, as the agreement provides, we directed NGP VAN to suspend the Sanders campaign's access to the system until the DNC is provided with a full accounting of whether or not this information was used and the way in which it was disposed," she said. "I have personally reached out to Senator Sanders to make sure that he is aware of the situation. When we receive this report from the Sanders campaign, we will make a determination of re-enabling the campaign's access to the system."

Hillary for America spokesperson Brian Fallon said in a statement Friday that the organization was "informed that our proprietary data was breached by Sanders campaign staff in 25 searches by four different accounts and that this data was saved into the Sanders' campaign account."

"We are 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," Fallon continued.

The progressive grassroots organization Democracy For America, which endorsed Sanders yesterday, called the DNC's actions "profoundly damaging to the party's democratic process" in a statement handed out to reporters at the press conference.

BuzzFeed News reporters Jon Passantino, Jim Dalrymple II, and Chris Geidner contributed to this report.

CJ Ciaramella is a Washington editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.

Contact CJ Ciaramella at cj.ciaramella@buzzfeed.com.

Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tamerra Griffin at tamerra.griffin@buzzfeed.com.

Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

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