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The Bernie Sanders Campaign Is Suing the Democratic National Committee

The lawsuit comes after Sanders' Campaign said the the DNC was "actively attempting to undermine" the Vermont senator's bid for the presidency after the committee barred the campaign from accessing a national voter database.
December 18, 2015, 1:00pm
Photo by CJ Gunther/EPA

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has filed a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee to regain "immediate" access to a national voter database Friday afternoon, hours after it accused the party of "actively attempting to undermine" the Vermont senator's bid for the presidency.

The lawsuit says the campaign is "sustaining irreparable injury and financial losses" after the DNC barred the team from all access to the database. Earlier, one of Sanders's staff members took advantage of a software glitch to access confidential voter information that belonged to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

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The campaign estimated losses at around $600,000 in donations a day, which "could significantly disadvantage, if not cripple, a Democratic candidate's campaign for public office," the lawsuit said.

Earlier Friday, Sanders Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver said that the DNC was motivated by favoritism toward Clinton, who is the current Democratic frontrunner and leading Sanders by roughly 31 percentage points, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll.

"The reality is that the huge turnouts that we've had at our meetings, our strong fundraising, our volunteer base, and quick rise in the polls have caused the Democratic National Committee to place its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton's campaign," Weaver wrote in a memo to Sanders supporters Friday.

Weaver added that the data was essential to contact voters in the early primary voting states, and blamed the DNC's own "technology platforms" for the glitch that allowed the staff member to access the information.

"That the Democratic Party would deny our staff and volunteers access to data needed to contact voters in Iowa and New Hampshire on the day we reached two million individual contributions and received two of our most prominent endorsements is disconcerting," he wrote. "The Democratic Establishment is effectively shutting down our ability to access the information we need for field campaigns and volunteer activities just six weeks before the Iowa Caucuses. And they haven't told us when they will turn it back on."

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Weaver told the Washington Post that a junior staffer had viewed the information gathered by Clinton's campaign team. The campaign later announced that the employee had been fired.

NGP VAN, the software vendor, told the Post that a window showing information belonging to other campaigns was briefly opened on a Sanders staffer's computer while a patch was being applied to the software. Ordinarily, firewalls help to prevent rival campaigns from seeing each other's data.

Weaver said the Sanders campaign never downloaded or printed any of the data and said the DNC should use a better software vendor.

"Sadly, the DNC is relying on an incompetent vendor who on more than one occasion has dropped the firewall between the various Democratic candidates' data," he said in a statement. "Our campaign months ago alerted the DNC to the fact that campaign data was being made available to other campaigns."

Related: What Exactly Is a Democratic Socialist? Bernie Sanders Offers His Take

But a source familiar with the data breach and the database's computer logs told the AP Friday that some of Sanders's aides saved the information gleaned. That information reportedly included files on voters in more than 10 early voting states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, where the third Democratic debate will be held Saturday night.

Following discovery of the breach, the DNC immediately blocked the Sanders campaign from accessing the database of voter information, and said the team would not be able to access it until it provides assurances that it had expunged all voting data accessed from the Clinton campaign. The DNC also asked for a full accounting of what happened.

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"The DNC places a high priority on maintaining the security of our system and protecting the data on it," DNC spokesman Luis Miranda said in a statement. "We are working with our campaigns and the vendor to have full clarity on the extent of the breach, ensure that this isolated incident does not happen again, and to enable our campaigns to continue engaging voters on the issues that matter most to them and their families."

Many Sanders supporters see the reprimand over access as an attempt by the DNC to undercut the Vermont senator in favor of Hillary Clinton. On Friday, a petition calling on DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to restore Sanders's access to the DNC database had already received more than 135,000 signatures by 2pm.

"Shutting down Sanders' tools to reach voters is an infringement on democracy," it read. "With just 6 weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses and less than 2 months before the New Hampshire primary, the Sanders campaign needs this voter file more than ever to reach a maximum number of voters."

The petition's author, Carl Gibson, 28, who is also behind the anti-corporate tax dodging group US Uncut, told VICE News that taking the voter file away from Sanders's campaign six weeks before the Iowa caucus was akin to "sabotage."

"Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been trying to undermine the Sanders campaign ever since he announced this spring," said Gibson. "For example, the Democratic debate tomorrow night. I'm a huge NFL fan and I enjoy watching prime time NFL. It doesn't make sense to me – how can you reasonably schedule a debate six days before Christmas on a Saturday, while people are shopping, or traveling, or watching prime time football."

Databases of information on voters and potential supporters are crucial to state and national campaigns, which can spend millions of dollars on gathering the data. The information is used to help campaigns predict a candidate's favorability among different demographics and tailor their outreach according to those findings.