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Want The Voter File? Campaigns Will Have To Pay, Record Videos, And Fundraise For The DNC To Get It

Some Democrats view the conditions, meant to help strengthen the DNC ahead of the general election, as overly restrictive for a crucial resource.

Posted on May 4, 2019, at 9:48 a.m. ET

DNC Chair Tom Perez
Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP / Getty Images

DNC Chair Tom Perez

Presidential campaigns seeking to gain access to the Democratic Party's 50-state voter file, a crucial database that costs $175,000 to purchase, must also agree to a strict set of terms requiring candidates to raise money for the Democratic National Committee.

Across the field of 21 candidates, some Democrats view the conditions as overly restrictive for a resource that presidential campaigns rely on daily as a foundation for everything from field organizing to analytics. The terms — meant to help strengthen the DNC ahead of the general election in support of the eventual nominee — are costly, time-consuming, and specific.

The voter file contains pools of data about millions of voters. Campaigns use the database as a foundation for their own data as they identify and track support over time within their own portals.

In addition to the $175,000 price tag on the voter file, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by BuzzFeed News, candidates who purchase the voter file must also agree to appear at one or more DNC fundraising events every three months during the duration of their bid for the nomination. At each fundraising-event appearance — dubbed "signature event(s)" in the term sheet — candidates will also be asked to record a short video in support of the DNC.

Campaigns must also sign at least one DNC fundraising email every three months, with donations split evenly between the campaign and the DNC. Separate from the emails to the DNC’s list, campaigns will also participate in a partywide fundraising day, slated for Aug. 7, 2019, sending an email to their own list. Those donations, too, will be split equally.

According to the term sheet, candidates who use the voter file will continue raising money for the party even after they drop out of the race, sending three additional emails to the DNC list before Election Day in 2020.

The so-called DNC signature events will range from grassroots fundraisers to “engagement events” like the party’s Women’s Leadership Forum or IWillVote Gala last year — but all will benefit the DNC financially, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. The Democratic Party has consistently lagged in fundraising behind the Republican Party. Since the 2016 primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, when the DNC emerged as a source of anti-establishment mistrust and resentment, DNC Chair Tom Perez, elected in 2017, has worked to restore morale inside the party and rebuild a fundraising and organizing infrastructure that languished during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The DNC declined to comment on a proprietary legal document.

Some Democratic state parties, particularly in the four states that kick off the nominating process, make their own voter files available for campaigns to purchase, although the 50-state database remains an essential resource.

Some campaigns have already signed the DNC terms.

Sanders, the longtime Vermont independent whose first presidential campaign fought bitterly with the Democratic Party establishment and famously sued the DNC during a dispute over the voter file in late 2015, has not yet agreed to the DNC conditions, two people close to his campaign said.

The 2015 clash began when multiple Sanders aides were caught taking advantage of a glitch in the DNC’s voter software that allowed them to access proprietary Clinton data. In response, the DNC chair at the time, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, temporarily blocked Sanders from using the voter file. About a month away from the Iowa caucuses — the first contest in the Democratic nominating process — the Sanders camp accused the DNC of deliberate sabotage.

“If the DNC continues to hold our data hostage and continues to try to attack the heart and soul of our grassroots campaign, we will be in federal court this afternoon seeking immediate relief,” Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said during a press conference that week.

“We need our data, which has been stolen by the DNC,” he said. “That’s what we want back.”

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

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