DNC sanctions Bernie Sanders for improper Clinton voter data breach

The punishment comes just one day after Bernie sees his best day on the campaign trail yet

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published December 18, 2015 3:08PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Joshua Roberts/AP/Ronda Churchill/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Joshua Roberts/AP/Ronda Churchill/Photo montage by Salon)

The Democratic National Committee has taken the extreme measure of suspending Bernie Sanders' campaign from the party's 50-state voter file until the campaign can satisfactorily explain why four staffers improperly accessed the partitioned voter data files of rival Hillary Clinton's campaign.

According to the Washington Post, the breach allegedly occurred during a brief lull in the security apparatus protecting third party vendor NGP VAN's software while a patch was being applied earlier this week. The DNC charges that during that 30 minute window, four staffers from the Sanders campaign breached the firewall to improperly access the voter files of the Clinton campaign, which contain important contact and personal information of potential voters.

The Sanders campaign denies that any Clinton data was violated and claims that after one of its operatives discovered the breach on Wednesday morning and directed three of his staffers to further investigate the extent of the campaign's own exposure, it eventually notified the vendor.

“We investigated it for a short period of time to see the scope of the Sanders campaign’s exposure and then the breach was shut down presumably by the vendor,” Sanders staffer Josh Uretsky told CNN. “We did not gain any material benefit.”

Urtesky has been fired from the Sanders campaign and campaign manager Jeff Weaver maintains the campaign is no longer in possession of Clinton's proprietor voter files as no files were ever printed or downloaded during the breach. Still, the DNC has vowed to suspend the campaign's access to NPG VAN voter files until it can “prove” that all Clinton data has been destroyed.

The news of the DNC sanction comes after the Sanders campaign saw its best day in a long time on Thursday. The Vermont senator picked up both his biggest labor endorsement yet from the 700,000 member strong Communication Workers of America and the first-ever presidential endorsement from the influential million-member progressive grassroots alliance Democracy For America -- founded by Howard Dean. To top it off, on Thursday, the Sanders campaign also announced it had collected more than 2 million contributions.

The DNC's suspension comes at a critical time when campaigns turn to the electronic database for voter targeting information weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

“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,” Sanders' campaign manger said, claiming the campaign has flagged similar problems with NPG VAN in the past.

“On more than one occasion, the vendor has dropped the firewall between the data of different Democratic campaigns. Our campaign months ago alerted the DNC to the fact that campaign data was being made available to other campaigns,” campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs told Buzzfeed. “At that time our campaign did not run to the media, relying instead on assurances from the vendor.”

DNC spokesman Luis Miranda told Buzzfeed that the party had directed NPG VAN to “conduct a thorough analysis to identify any users who accessed the data, what actions they took in the system, and to report on the findings to the Party and any affected campaign.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Democratic Primary Bernie Sanders Dnc Hillary Clinton Npg-van Voter Files