Yesterday everyone was so focused on who accessed what campaign data in the DNC voter file breach, that we all fell right into a trap by the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Honestly I’m kicking myself for not thinking about this, especially after Charlie Pierce asked the best question of the day; “Why Did the DNC Let the Bernie-Hillary Tech Story Leak?” Now I believe I know the answer – to cover-up the real story.
Voter data is the holy grail of politics. It lets campaigns know who to spend time targeting and who to ignore. Both the DNC and RNC has spent tens of millions of dollars curating all this data. So, when news broke that there was a data breach of this data at a national party, damage control had to be quickly done. Enter Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
One thing that really bugged me last night was when Schultz appeared on MSNBC and kept insisting that the Sanders campaign had downloaded this data. This accusation went against the public statement made by the CEO of the DNC’s data vendor, NGP-VAN:
First, a one page-style report containing summary data on a list was saved out of VoteBuilder by one Sanders user. This is what some people have referred to as the “export” from VoteBuilder. As noted below, users were unable to export lists of people.
So why was the chair of the DNC out there saying something that purely contradicted what their trusted vendor is saying?
To understand this, you need to understand exactly what Vote Builder is.
In a nutshell, VoteBuilder is a glorified database interface you access through a website. The data driving that database is the holy grail itself, the DNC master voter file. The DNC relies upon the various campaign workers and volunteers throughout the company to help keep this data updated. Information is obtained through traditional activities such as canvassing and phone banking. That data is then entered into the VoteBuilder system by these campaign people and then augmented with extra data-mining of things like social media, that NGP-VAN offers as part of their service.
To keep this data constantly evolving and increase the accuracy, the DNC relies on every Democratic candidate, rather it be President, Congress or local Mayor, to utilize the VoteBuilder system and help curate more data, plus update existing data. These campaigns in turn also pay a monthly access fee to NGP-VAN to access the VoteBuilder system.
But something happened this week. Suddenly there’s news that this trusted system that Democratic candidates pay big money to access had it’s primary security system basically go missing. Now you got different campaigns suddenly able to access vital data of their rivals. In the blood sport of politics, this is a big deal!
Let’s think about this for a minute. The DNC is courting people to run for office. On top of that, they are also trying to sell the use of their voter database. But suddenly you now have serious questions about the actual security of this system. If a candidate is looking at a heated primary, this would have them asking “can I trust this system I’m paying all this money for to not expose my data to my rivals?” And honestly, they would be right to ask that.
What this breach does is put into question the trustworthiness of the vendor that manages the most valued asset of the DNC – the voter file.
So, back to Charlie Pierce’s question, why would the DNC even leak that this has happened? My guess is that was a last resort tactic. They wanted to try and control the story, distracting from the most important question of the security of their system, and instead focusing on the actions of one of the campaign. There was most likely a fear that after they cut off Sanders access, the Sanders campaign would go public. If that would have happened, then it would have been harder for the DNC to control the story. That control was evident yesterday by the statements Schultz was making, as I pointed out above.
Another interesting aspect to this entire saga is the agreement late last night. Just moments before going before the judge, the DNC and Sanders campaign announced that an agreement was reached. Now varying stories and theories of how this came about have been circulated, but putting all this together now, let me offer this theory.
A lawsuit between a national political party and one of their presidential candidates is unprecedented as near as I can tell. For the political junkies out there, it would be followed very closely. That includes campaign managers and consultants around the country. Everyone is going to follow the case to find out exactly what happened. Some of that evidence is also going to include the very issue in the lawsuit, VoteBuilder, including such questions as:
- Exactly what was the extent of this breach?
- Has this actually happened before?
- What safeguards were in place?
- What safeguards are being implemented to prevent this in the future?
The list goes on, and it would be calling into question the security and reliability of the very system the DNC is telling candidates to trust and use.
Depending on how the trial would have gone, this could have really undermined data mining efforts for the DNC for years to come. Suddenly you have campaigns not trusting your system and using their own, of which there are other alternatives out there. Those campaigns go to that other system, and the DNC is suddenly not getting their data updated by that campaign. It quickly starts reducing the effectiveness of the DNC’s actual list. As this continues, that list becomes less valuable and suddenly things like Presidential elections become harder to win.
So while we were all focusing on who did what, with what and how, the DNC was out there employing the great smoke and mirrors of politics. “Question the candidate, not our beloved system!” became the message relayed from the DNC, and that was despite the well known fact that it was that very system that lead to this entire issue.
Put it this way. If your bank suddenly gave all their other customers access to your account, would you continue to use them? I think we know the answer to that.