Politics & Policy

Sanders Sues Democratic Party over Campaign ‘Sabotage’

Sanders campaigns in Mancester, N.H., November 29, 2015. (Darren McCollester/Getty)

The Bernie Sanders campaign filed a federal lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee on Friday, just hours after Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver accused the DNC of trying to “sabotage” the social Vermont senator’s presidential campaign by shutting off his access to Democratic voter rolls after an apparent unauthorized data breach by the Sanders campaign.

Citing “irreparable injury and financial losses” that “are incapable of precise calculation, but exceed $600,000 per day,” the Sanders campaign asked the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to immediately compel the DNC to restore their access to the Democratic voter database, and to pay damages to the Sanders campaign the amount of which is “[to be determined] at trial, but [is] presently known to exceed $75,000.”

Weaver spelled out the rationale behind the lawsuit hours earlier, during a press conference on the steps of the Sanders campaign’s Washington, D.C., office. “Individual leaders of the DNC can support Hillary Clinton in any way they want, but they are not going to sabotage our campaign — one of the strongest grassroots campaigns in modern history,” he said. “We are announcing today that if the DNC continues to hold our data hostage, and continues to try to attack the heart and soul of our campaign, we will be in federal court this afternoon seeking an immediate injunction.”

It was a bold counterstrike against the DNC’s Thursday charge that at least one staffer in the Sanders campaign exploited a software glitch to improperly access internal voter data from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. As punishment, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz indefinitely barred the only viable Clinton challenger from accessing all Democratic voter data — a move that could cripple the Sanders campaign and spark a civil war between the Democratic party’s progressive and establishment wings.

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Wasserman Schultz has fended off accusations of Clinton favoritism for months. In scheduling Democratic debates on off-hours and weekends, many progressives believe she is trying to protect the Democratic front-runner from scrutiny. On Friday, Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC the Sanders data ban was “temporary” and that she was merely following an agreement signed by all the Democratic campaigns.

Weaver didn’t buy it. “It looks like they are trying to help the Clinton campaign,” he said bluntly. “We’re taking on the establishment, and I’m sure there are people in the Democratic establishment who are not happy about the overwhelming success that Sanders is having all over this country.”

#share#The Sanders campaign was coming off a high on Thursday before the DNC brought the hammer down. The Sanders had just reached a milestone of 2 million individual donors, a testament to the small donations driving his campaign. And he’d picked up the endorsement of the 700,000 strong Communication Workers of America union, one of the largest labor groups in America — a crucial achievement after months of lagging behind the Clinton campaign in union endorsements.

Weaver said his campaign had already fired the staffer who briefly accessed the data, and is interviewing others to determine whether any more acted inappropriately. Still, he said the ultimate responsibility for the breach lay with NGP VAN, the DNC’s software proprietor — especially since the Sanders campaign had already warned about the database’s vulnerability in October, when they believe their own data was made available to another campaign.

For their part, the Clinton campaign ripped into the Sanders campaign. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook called the data breach “an act of theft” and “not, as the Sanders campaign explained, ‘a mistake.’”

#related#But powerful progressive groups are lining up behind the Sanders campaign, with MoveOn.org and Democracy for America both releasing statements calling on the DNC to change course. “DNC leaders should immediately reverse this disturbing decision before the committee does even more to bring it’s neutrality in the race for President into question,” wrote DFA executive director Charles Chamberlain.

Weaver called the DNC’s response “unprecedented,” saying it was his own campaign’s meticulously collected data to which they were now being denied access. And, he warned, it may backfire: “People across the country — and we’re already beginning to see it now, online — are outraged by this conduct by the DNC, which is clearly a heavy-handed attempt to undermine this campaign.” 

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