'Berniegate': Sanders regains access to voter data, supporters furious over DNC ban

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders © Brian Snyder
The Democratic Party temporarily blocked the Bernie Sanders campaign from its voter database over claims its staffers accessed Hillary Clinton’s proprietary data. Outraged Sanders supporters accused the party leadership of bias and of dirty tricks.

After the Washington Post revealed on Thursday night that Sanders staff had accessed Clinton files in the Democratic National Committee’s voter database, managed by the software company NGP VAN, the DNC announced it would block Sanders from the database.

The database maintained by the Democratic National Committee aggregates voter data from all Democrat campaigns, but rival candidates would normally have access to their own data only. Apparently the mechanism ensuring this date privacy was broken after a recent software patch, inadvertently allowing the Sanders campaign access to Clinton's data.

Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver protested the decision Friday, calling it an “inappropriate overreaction” and accusing the DNC of holding "hostage" the campaign’s own dataIf the DNC did not change its mind, Weaver said, the campaign would go to court and seek an injunction.

READ MORE: DNC holds our data hostage - Sanders campaign on suspension over data breach

By Friday afternoon, the Sanders campaign sued the DNC for breech of contract, arguing that being cut off from the database would cost it approximately $600,000 in donations a day. A petition to the DNC to reinstate Sanders' access to the database had gathered almost 200,000 signatures.

The DNC finally reversed the decision early Saturday, saying the Sanders campaign had complied with the party's request for information on the incident. The DNC said it “will continue to investigate to ensure that the data that was inappropriately accessed has been deleted and is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign.”

Clinton supporters have come up with a social media hashtag for the scandal: #Berniegate.

Weaver confirmed that one staffer was fired over the incident, and several others were being disciplined. Josh Uretsky, now the former national data director for the Sanders campaign, admitted he was responsible for looking at the files.

The software company maintaining the database, NGP VAN, said that the Sanders staff was “able to search by and view (but not export or save or act on) some attributes that came from another campaign.”

DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz told CNN the Sanders campaign had “nothing but bluster” to make their case, adding that the ban was imposed to make sure they could not “manipulate” the data they accessed.

Wasserman-Schultz also compared the Sanders campaign to someone who entered a house through an open door and stole things.

Speaking to CNN and MSNBC on Friday, Uretsky said he was trying to document the extent of the breach, since this was not the first time it took place. The campaign’s actions amounted to leaving “a sign on the door that the door was open,” Uretsky said.

Sanders supporters were quick to denounce the party establishment of acting on behalf of Clinton, especially since Wasserman-Schultz was Clinton’s campaign co-chair during the 2008 primary race. NGP VAN CEO, Stu Trevelyan, worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and then at the Clinton White House before founding the company.

In a statement released Friday, Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon repeated the claim that the Sanders campaign “saved” Clinton data and called for the DNC to ensure “that the Sanders campaign only have access to their own data.” 

The claims and counterclaims have been feeding conspiracy theories all day, Esquire commentator Charles P. Pierce noted, wondering why the DNC chose to make a big deal out of what could have been handled quietly and in-house and joking that NGP VAN “evidently should be selling lawn sprinklers instead of data access.”

“What admittedly sends my thoughts up a grassy knoll is how this relatively minor blip made it to The Washington Post in the first place,” Pierce wrote.

While both the software company and the Sanders campaign made mistakes, DNC actions are only making things worse, senior political editor at NBC News Mark Murray quoted one observer he did not name.

Sanders and Clinton supporters continued trading barbs on social media, as the clock ticked down to the Democratic debate on Saturday.