Late in the day on Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) filed paperwork to continue an ongoing lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee. The reason surrounds an incident with the Hillary Clinton campaign that occurred more than three months ago.
The lawsuit argues that the DNC unfairly barred Sanders from accessing critical voter information — specifically, a 50-state “voter file” containing information about how to reach potential voters. The DNC briefly suspended Sanders’ access to that file in December, after one of his staffers improperly accessed Clinton’s voter data.
At the time, Sanders’ campaign officials admitted that their staffer did improperly look at Clinton’s data. But they contended that it was also the DNC’s fault, because a DNC software vendor allowed a glitch in the system which ultimately made Clinton’s data available. The glitch also made Sanders’ data available to the Clinton campaign — though no one on Clinton’s staff looked at it.
More complications arose. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz accused the Sanders team of exporting and downloading Clinton’s voter data to use at a later date. Sanders campaign officials denied this charge, and said they did not do anything with the information. “We did not gain any material benefit,” said Sanders’ former national data director Josh Uretsky, who was later fired over the incident.
Eventually, the DNC suspended Sanders’ access to the voter file. One day later, the DNC and Sanders came to a deal, and Sanders’ access to the voter file was restored.
Still, the Sanders’ campaign sued, arguing that the DNC overreacted by suspending their access, and had harmed their ability to campaign on an equal playing field with Clinton. Moreover, Sanders’ attorneys argued that the DNC broke its contract with the campaign, which stated that the DNC must give notice before suspending access to information. The campaign is seeking $75,000 in damages.
“The DNC, in an inappropriate overreaction, has denied us access to our own data,” Sanders campaign Weaver said at the time. “In other words, the leadership of the Democratic National Committee is actively trying to undermine our campaign.”
The filing that happened on Thursday is a continuation of this lawsuit from December. Specifically, it is a service of process. In layman’s terms, this means the Sanders campaign has technically “served” the DNC.
The campaign, however, is downplaying the service as procedural. The filing itself says the motion was taken “simply in order to preserve the status quo.” And that is true — if the Sanders campaign had not issued the summons, their lawsuit would have been thrown out. Federal law requires a service of process to be issued 90 days after a civil lawsuit is filed.
Both the Sanders campaign and the DNC insist talks are going smoothly. DNC press secretary Mark Paustenbach told Politco that “productive discussions” were underway for a settlement. Sanders communications director Michael Briggs said the campaign was “continuing to cooperate” with the DNC.
While both sides may say things are going great, underlying tension runs deep between the DNC and the Sanders campaign. Critics have accused DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of favoritism toward Clinton, noting her 2008 position as Clinton’s campaign co-chair. She was also criticized by the Sanders campaign last year for allowing only 6 presidential debates, and scheduling many of them on weekends, when ratings are usually lower. Some suggested that fewer debates would be advantageous for Clinton.
Wasserman Schultz defended herself against claims of favoritism in an interview with Fox News earlier this week.
“There’s just no shred of evidence to suggest that I’m favoring Hillary Clinton,” she said. “I’m not donig a very good job wrapping up the nomination for her if I were actually favoring Hillary Clinton. I could have worked a lot harder at it if that were what I was doing.”