Bernie Sanders' Campaign Reaches Voter Data Deal With Democratic National Committee

It's the committee's fault, the Sanders team says, that an unauthorized data breach happened in the first place.
Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign will regain access to the Democratic National Committee's national voter file under a deal reached late Friday, hours after Sanders sued the DNC.

The DNC, which suspended Sanders' access to the data after a campaign worker accessed confidential voter information from rival Hillary Clinton's campaign this week, will lift the ban effective on Saturday, according to statements from Sanders and the DNC.

The deal was reached hours after the Sanders campaign accused the DNC in a lawsuit of causing it “substantial financial, reputational and political injury” with the suspension. Friday night's agreement doesn't end the lawsuit, according to a person close to the situation.

The DNC "capitulated," Sanders' campaign said in a statement. "Clearly, they were very concerned about their prospects in court," Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, said.

The DNC said Sanders' campaign had agreed to cooperate with the committee's continuing investigation into the data breach.

In a complaint filed in federal district court in Washington, lawyers for the Sanders campaign alleged that the DNC “failed to implement reasonable data security measures,” which led to “the inadvertent disclosure” this week of confidential voter information from the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The campaign is asking the court to order an "immediate restoration" of its access to the voter data system, in keeping with an agreement it signed in October with the DNC.

Noting that voter demographics and other metrics in the database are "vital to the fundraising and voter identification efforts of all presidential candidates," campaign lawyers said that the information was "especially crucial" for Sanders as his operation relies primarily on small contributions from individual donors.

"The loss of access to the Voter Data could significantly disadvantage, if not cripple, a Democratic candidate’s campaign for public office," the lawyers wrote in their complaint.

On Wednesday, a breach in the firewall between the Democratic candidates’ respective voter files, which are rented to the campaigns by the DNC, allowed Sanders campaign staffers to access Clinton's proprietary voter data. (A bug in the code originated with the technology company NGP VAN.)

The DNC suspended the Sanders campaign's access to its own voter file on Friday, saying that Sanders staffers had improperly viewed, downloaded and exported Clinton’s confidential data.

The Sanders campaign fired its national data director, Josh Uretsky, on Friday, and said it was investigating whether to take disciplinary action against any other staffers who may have been involved. The DNC and Clinton’s campaign have said that four separate accounts accessed Clinton’s data.

Though Sanders' campaign has insisted that it did not keep the data its staffers viewed, Time magazine reported Friday that those staffers appear “to have obtained files with lists of voters that the Clinton campaign had cultivated in 10 early states including Iowa and New Hampshire” and that the staffers “created from scratch no fewer than 24 lists -- consisting entirely of data pulled down from the Clinton campaign’s database -- and saved them to their personal folders.”

Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver had threatened to sue the DNC earlier on Friday, arguing that the committee was holding the campaign's voter data “hostage” and that suspending the campaign's access to the file was an "inappropriate overreaction."

The campaign followed through with the legal action late Friday, contending in court papers that the agreement it reached with the DNC for voter information does not allow either party "to terminate or suspend" their contractual obligations with respect to the data "without notice" or without "the requisite opportunity to cure" any issues that may arise.

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) defended the suspension on Friday, arguing that it was in line with the agreement the campaigns had with the committee not to access another campaign's proprietary information.

Brian Fallon, Clinton's national press secretary, tweeted after the suit was filed that "if you are so proud of your grassroots organization, you should not need to resort to stealing campaign data."

In a press call Friday, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said that the data breech was "egregious" and that the Sanders campaign was misrepresenting what had occurred.

"This was not an inadvertent glimpse into our data and it was not, as the Sanders campaign has described it, a mistake," Mook said. "They have tried to downplay what this means, so I want to be very very clear: This is data that took millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours to build. So the voter file is not simply a list of names and contact information."

Mook called on the Sanders campaign to stop "politicizing" the incident and "work to make sure that what took place is remedied."

He also said said that the Clinton campaign isn't taking a position on the lawsuit or on any punitive measures the DNC has or would impose on Sanders' campaign. Rather, he said, Clinton's team simply wanted "to be assured that [Sanders'] campaign no longer has any of our data."

Mook said that Sanders' campaign should submit to an independent review to confirm that it's not still in possession of the Clinton voter data, since audits of the NGP VAN program show that accounts linked to Sanders made 24 separate retention efforts to save the data within the system and one effort to effort to export the data to an Excel spreadsheet.

This article has been updated to include the deal between Sanders and the DNC.

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