A slowly burning flame between the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee burst into a full-on fire Friday with the Vermont senator’s campaign taking the DNC to federal court.
The suit follows accusations from the DNC that four staffers for the Sanders campaign had improperly accessed private voter data from Hillary Clinton’s campaign stored on a DNC database.
Josh Uretsky, the Sanders national data director who was fired Thursday by the campaign for accessing the database, says he did so knowingly and to understand a previously known security breach. The DNC subsequently blocked Sanders’ camp from accessing all DNC voter data.
The Sanders suit, which claims that blocking the campaign from access to the data is an overreaction and a breach of contract, could be the first of its kind.
“There have definitely been internal battles between candidates and their parties, but I don’t recall a lawsuit like this on the federal level,” said Kenneth Gross, an election law expert at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.
According to a former DNC official who worked for many years at the committee, the closest a presidential candidate has come to suing the DNC was in 2008 when Hillary Clinton’s former presidential campaign risked losing much needed primary delegate seats in Florida and Michigan. Both states moved their primaries to unsanctioned dates and the DNC responded by taking away half of their delegates at the party’s convention.
Clinton’s campaign was the one most hurt by this, but instead of suing the DNC directly, elected officials who openly supported Clinton, like Florida Senator Bill Nelson, did so. Ultimately Florida’s federal district court threw out the officials’ lawsuit.
In addition to the lack of precedent, Gross says winning the argument against the DNC would be a challenge for Sanders, whose campaign agreed to the terms of access for voter information through the DNC.
“On this thing, there was an allegation that [Bernie’s staffer] was violating rules, and [the camapaign] fired the guy responsible. So they are acknowledging that they did something wrong. And now they are saying the rules are no good,” Gross said. “I think it’s really an uphill battle for Sanders to prevail in a case like this—it seems to be the party would have a certain amount of decision over the use of their information.”
He said the suit will provide a better understanding of the grounds upon which Sanders’ camp is challenging the DNC.
Tensions have been high between Sanders’ presidential campaign and the DNC for months following the committee’s initial release of the Democratic debate schedule, which includes many dates on weekends and during popular sporting events.
Sanders, along with fellow Democratic candidate former Gov. Martin O’Malley, has in the past lambasted the party for purposefully hosting the debates on times when viewership would be low.