The campaign of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has filed a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee.
In a legal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., on Friday evening, Sanders’ campaign claims that the DNC cost Sanders in excess of $600,000 per day for its decision to suspend its access to a key voter database over allegations of misconduct.
The Sanders campaign threatened to sue the DNC earlier on Friday if it did not return access to the voter database.
The battle between Sanders and the DNC lays bare the notion among critics that the Democratic Party intentionally handicaps challengers to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, whose data Sanders’ campaign is said to have accessed.
The DNC, however, says it is simply attempting to maintain rule and order.
The 12-page lawsuit states that Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, raised $2.4 million between Dec. 14 and Dec. 16. “Most of this money came from individual donors identified through, inter alia, the strategic use of Voter Data,” the complaint says.
“The DNC may not suspend the Campaign’s access to critical Voter Data out of haste or desperation to clean up after the DNC’s own mistakes.”
“The DNC is one of the most powerful political apparatuses in the nation. Candidates seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party for public office rely heavily on the support of the DNC to organize and publicize their campaigns,” the complaint says. “The loss of DNC support could significantly disadvantage, if not cripple, a Democratic candidate’s campaign for public office.”
The DNC on Thursday accused the Sanders campaign of intentionally accessing, viewing, and downloading data belonging to the Clinton campaign.
The Clinton data was obtainable by the Sanders campaign due to a glitch in the software, maintained by technology firm NGP VAN, that disabled access controls in the voter database meant to prevent campaigns obtaining each other’s confidential data. The database also includes the master list of voter data compiled by the DNC, which all participating Democratic campaigns can access.
After the DNC suspended the Sanders’ campaign from accessing the voter database, senior Sanders staff fired Josh Uretsky, the campaign’s national data director, for repeatedly accessing Clinton’s campaign data, according to the legal complaint.
Uretsky told CNN on Friday that he and his team were simply trying to understand what had happened.
“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, adding, “To the best of my knowledge, nobody took anything that would have given the [Sanders] campaign any benefit.”
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, accused the DNC of “an inappropriate overreaction” in its suspension decision, which he characterized as an intentional play to “undermine” Sanders’ chances at the White House.
“The DNC, in an inappropriate overreaction, has denied us access to our own data,” Weaver said in a statement. “In other words, the leadership of the Democratic National Committee is actively trying to undermine our campaign.”
Time reported later on Friday, however, that it had reviewed data allegedly downloaded by the Sanders campaign, which included “lists of voters that the Clinton campaign had cultivated in 10 early states including Iowa and New Hampshire.”
“According to the logs, the Sanders staff 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,” reported Time‘s Sam Frizell.
The Sanders campaign, in both statements to the press and in the legal complaint, demands that it did not save the Clinton data nor benefit from it in anyway.
In a statement to the Washington Post, which first reported the Sanders suspension late on Thursday, DNC spokesman Luis Miranda said it had taken precautions to “ensure that this isolated incident does not happen again.”
“The DNC places a high priority on maintaining the security of our system and protecting the data on it,” Miranda said. “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.”
The complaint states that “a similar security incident arose with the NGP VAN software during the 2008 national presidential primaries, resulting in the unintentional transmission of Confidential Information to the campaign of Democratic primary candidate Hillary Clinton.”
While denying any wrongdoing on the part of the Sanders campaign, the suit blames the situation on NGP VAN’s failure to “exercise reasonable care and diligence” to fix the errors in its software and the DNC’s inability to use a system that disables the chance of this type of data breach.
Further, the complaint claims that the DNC failed to notify the Sanders campaign of its suspension, in violation of the agreement between the two parties, which they entered on Oct. 26.
“The DNC may not suspend the Campaign’s access to critical Voter Data out of haste or desperation to clean up after the DNC’s own mistakes,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit demands “immediate restoration” of the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter database and damages “known to exceed $75,000” but to be “determined at trial.”
Read the full complaint below:
Photo via Michael Vadon/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)