Thumb on the Scale? DNC Backs Off Bernie But Questions of Neutrality Linger

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Thumb on the Scale? DNC Backs Off Bernie But Questions of Neutrality Linger

Data breach controversy erupts as Democratic candidates prepare for the third primary debate Saturday night

DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (NY) is facing fire for "attacking" the campaign of presidential underdog Bernie Sanders. (Photo: AP)

Though the Democratic National Committee (DNC) late Friday reversed its controversial decision to block the Bernie Sanders campaign from accessing important voter information, the skirmish raised questions about the organization's neutrality in the presidential contest. 

Hours after the Sanders campaign filed (pdf) a lawsuit against the party, chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fl.) issued a statement saying that the DNC will restore campaign access to the voter file while the group continues to investigate the alleged data breach. 

"Clearly, they were very concerned about their prospects in court," said Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver. The suit charges that the campaign would suffer "sustaining irreparable injury and financial losses" exceeding $600,000 each day if unable to retrieve essential voter information.

Further, organizers argue that the security lapse was rather the fault of the DNC. "Now what we need to restore confidence in the DNC’s ability to secure data is an independent audit that encompasses the DNC’s record this entire campaign," Weaver added. "Transparency at the DNC is essential. We trust they have nothing to hide."

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After the DNC leaked the news to the press, the national party was barraged with messages from supporters of Sanders accusing the group of placing "its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton's campaign," as Weaver wrote in a campaign email.

More than 214,800 people who signed an online petition to the DNC circulated by Sanders’ campaign. MoveOn.org collected another 250,000 signatures while Democracy for America, which just Thursday announced it was endorsing the Vermont Senator's presidential bid, collected 100,000.

DFA executive director Charles Chamberlain issued a strong statement against the DNC, saying its "decision to attack the campaign that figured out the problem, rather than go after the vendor that made the mistake, is profoundly damaging to the party’s Democratic process."

Sanders' campaign maintains that the employee accused of penetrating the confidential files gathered by the rival campaign of Hillary Clinton was, in fact, trying to understand the extent of the software error.

Further, Chamberlain alluded to the mounting critique of the national party, saying it must restore equity "before the committee does even more to bring its neutrality in the race for President into question."

The controversy erupted as democratic candidates geared up for their third debate, which will be held in New Hampshire Saturday evening and aired on ABC News. The DNC has also faced criticism over the number and timing of the primary debates—including this latest, which is expected to have a low viewer turnout due to its scheduling on the Saturday before Christmas.—which, critics argue, is a boost to frontrunner Clinton.

Indeed, Weaver also said was "disconcerting" that the move to limit the campaign's actions came on the very same day the campaign "reached two million individual contributions and received two of our most prominent endorsements."

Sanders' campaign and supporters will be commenting on the debate live under the hashtag #DebateWithBernie.

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