With less than a month to go until the Vermont Democratic Primary, I got a concerned call from one my Democratic friends who is supporting Dave Zuckerman (P/D) for Lieutenant Governor. She had just learned that Dave’s campaign was denied access to the vote builder data base by the State Committee, and she wanted me to explain to her ‘why?’
Knowing that in a similar situation, Bernie Sander’s national campaign had been given access to the Party data base, I told her that I thought she might just be mistaken about the facts, but I said I’d see what I could find out.
So, after a little research, I reached out to Executive Director Conor Casey who confirmed what she had heard, and graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me.
As you can well imagine that voter data base has tremendous value to a campaign, allowing it to spare hard-won and often precious few fundraising dollars by sending literature and making calls only to voters likely to support the candidate. Without such select data finding voters susceptible to the candidate’s message is a little like looking for a needle in a haystack at so many cents per blade of straw.
Under contractual rules established by the national committee, access to the data base is provided to the campaigns of eligible candidates at a price; and he said that, even though the State Committee had endorsed him, the Executive Committee had decided that Senator Zuckerman did not qualify as a “bona fide Democrat” for that access.
This specific language seems to be the sticking point, and Conor quoted it for me from the contract:
“State Party shall provide all information in the State Party Voter File to all bona fide Democratic candidates for federal, state and local office in the state for both primary and general elections except that State Party shall not be obligated to provide such information to candidates in a Democratic primary in which there is a Democratic incumbent running for re-election. Such information shall be provided to candidates at a reasonable cost and upon such other reasonable terms and conditions as the State Party may deem appropriate provided that such terms and conditions are applied equally to all such bona fide candidates.”
The question of course is who exactly can be described as a ‘bona fide’ Democratic candidate.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘bona fide’ thusly:
1 : made in good faith without fraud or deceit <a bona fide offer to buy a farm> 2 : made with earnest intent : sincere. 3 : neither specious nor counterfeit : genuine.
Since the term ‘bona fide’ does not appear to be capitalized in the National Committee contract, I think we can assume that it represents a judgement call for the State Executive Committee rather than a status with legally defined parameters.
Conor said the decision to deny access to the Zuckerman campaign was based on his intention to run in the General, if successful in the Primary, as a P/D rather than as a full-throated Democrat or a D/P.
I then spoke with Sen. Zuckerman who told me that, in light of access to Democratic voter data given to Bernie by the Democratic National Committee, he didn’t quite understand why his campaign was not deemed similarly deserving.
In 2006 and 2012, when Bernie was running for the Senate, he competed in the Democratic Primary, but then chose to run in the General as an Independent. He was apparently still allowed access to the voter data by the National Executive Committee during the current Democratic Presidential Primaries.
Sen. Zuckerman, who is prepared to run as a P/D in the General (not a plain Progressive), questions why Bernie can be viewed by the Party as a ‘bona fide Democrat’ for purposes of access to the data base, but Zuckerman cannot. In closing our conversation he offered the following comment:
“While I think it is unfortunate that they have made this decision, my campaign is going strong, people are responding well to my message of social, economic and environmental justice. People are more interested in policy and substance than establishment party politics.”
I spoke with Conor one more time and asked him to explain the difference between Sen. Zuckerman’s status viz-a-viz the Democratic Party, and that of Bernie Sanders. I was still trying to understand that ‘bona fide’ bit.
Conor explained that as Bernie always ran as an independent, he actually had no other official party status to conflict with the Democratic designation. It was the view of the Executive Committee that Sen. Zuckerman’s relationship with the Progressive Party represents a conflict of interest with regard to securing the data base against unauthorized sharing. He was quick to say that it wasn’t that the Executive Committee didn’t trust Sen. Zuckerman himself, but it was felt that too many members of a competing party, as Zuckerman volunteers, might legitimately have access to the data, even though they, too, would be bound by the confidentiality agreement attached to every purchase of the data.
Conor pointed further to the access to Progressive Party voter data that Sen. Zuckerman has but his Democratic opponents do not, as somewhat compensating for his loss of access to the Democratic voter data. Of course the volume of that Progressive Party data is dwarfed many times over by the data base in the possession of the Democrats.
And it can be reasonably argued that this is the Democratic Primary (not the General), in which, by definition, Sen. Zuckerman is only running as a Democrat. So his disadvantage in this regard, as compared to the other candidates remains considerable. Furthermore, the Democrats obviously prefer that he compete in the Democratic primary rather than give them a third party competitor (a so-called ‘spoiler’) in the General.
In the end there isn’t much Sen. Zuckerman could have done to satisfy that elusive requirement of ‘bona fides,’ but I had to point out to Conor that the Senators’s voting record in the Legislature is much more supportive of the Democratic agenda than is the voting record of certain ‘Blue Dogs’ who freely obtain access every election cycle to the voter data that Sen. Zuckerman is being denied.
With that Conor had to agree, musing out loud that perhaps there would be some merit to questioning the Blue Dog’s claim to ‘bona fide’ status…whatever that is.
My can of worms opened and duly released, I must thank both Conor and David Zuckerman for their cooperation with my not entirely satisfactory efforts to get to the bottom of this voter data dilemma.