Critics Cry Foul as DNC Cripples Sanders Campaign Operation
The national party apparatus is essentially 'taking our campaign hostage,' says top Sanders staffer
Update (1:20 pm EST)
The Democratic National Committee's (DNC) decision to suspend Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign's access to a crucial voter database after a software glitch is an "inappropriate overreaction" that shows "the leadership of the DNC is now actively attempting to undermine our campaign," a top staffer said in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver said that by freezing the campaign's access to voter data, the national party apparatus is essentially "taking our campaign hostage."
He said it was "impossible to mobilize the kind of grassroots campaign we have without that data."
If the DNC does not restore access immediately, Weaver said the Sanders camp will take the party to federal court on Friday afternoon.
"They are not going to sabotage our campaign," Weaver said.
Critics are crying foul after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) suspended Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign's access to a crucial voter database just weeks before the first Democratic caucuses.
The penalty stems from a software error that allowed a Sanders staffer to access confidential voter information gathered by the rival campaign of Hillary Clinton, according to the Washington Post, which first reported the incident late Thursday. The staffer has since been fired, the Sanders campaign said.
The Post explained:
The DNC maintains the master list and rents it to national and state campaigns, which then add their own, proprietary information gathered by field workers and volunteers. Firewalls are supposed to prevent campaigns from viewing data gathered by their rivals.
NGP VAN, the vendor that handles the master file, said the incident occurred Wednesday while a patch was being applied to the software. The process briefly opened a window into proprietary information from other campaigns, said the company’s chief, Stu Trevelyan. He said a full audit will be conducted.
The DNC has reportedly told the Sanders campaign that it will not be allowed access to the data again until it provides an explanation for how the breach occurred as well as assurances that all Clinton data has been destroyed.
The timing couldn't be worse. As the Guardian noted, the move "functionally halts [the campaign's] field operation."
Already, a MoveOn.org petition calling on DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to immediately reinstate the Sanders campaign's access to the 50-state voter file has gathered more than 85,000 signatures. With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary less than two months away, "Shutting down Sanders' tools to reach voters is an infringement on democracy," the petition reads.
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said staffers "never downloaded or printed any of the data, meaning it is no longer in possession of any proprietary information," the Post reported.
Weaver placed blame at the feet of NGP VAN—and criticized the DNC for hiring the company, saying the Sanders campaign had flagged similar problems with the software for the DNC in the past.
CNN spoke with the fired staffer—national data director Josh Uretsky—who said the breach was an attempt to "understand how badly the Sanders campaign's data was exposed" by the software error.
"We knew there was a security breach in the data, and we were just trying to understand it and what was happening," Uretsky told CNN.
The incident comes amid criticism that the number and timing of the Democratic primary debates—another of which is taking place this Saturday evening, six days before Christmas—is giving an advantage to establishment candidate Clinton.
As Frank Bruni wrote of the debate schedule in the New York Times on Friday: "It smacks of special treatment, and Clinton, who set up her own home-brewed email account as secretary of state, can’t afford to keep giving voters the impression that normal rules don’t apply to her."
Bottom line, columnist Greg Sargent said in an op-ed Friday calling for the DNC to restore Sanders' access to voter data as quickly as possible: "This is no way to maintain confidence in the integrity of the primary process."