Even More Valuable Than His Endorsement, Bernie May Have Started Sharing Data

The Sanders voter data and email lists could be key to Hillary Clinton uniting the party and even winning the White House.

Even More Valuable Than His Endorsement, Bernie May Have Started Sharing Data
[Source Photo: Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images]

On Tuesday morning in a carefully choreographed appearance in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders ended his bid for the presidency and endorsed his fierce rival, the “establishment” candidate Hillary Clinton, much to the chagrin of millions of hardcore Bernie supporters.


“I will do everything in my power to make sure that Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States,” said Sanders.

That’s more than just talk. The valuable voter-targeting data gathered by Bernie campaign officials and volunteers during the primary could be invaluable to the Clinton campaign. The Bernie donor list is even more valuable; it was the source of more than $220 million in mostly small ($27) donations during the primary. Despite reports that Sanders hasn’t yet handed over his email, volunteer, and donor lists, sources tell Fast Company that the two campaigns are likely cutting deals to have Clinton benefit from at least some of that gold mine of info right now.

The data and lists provide a sort of roadmap to winning over the voters that Clinton needs to win big in November, mainly the under-30 crowd with whom she has polled so poorly.

The Voter Data

The voter-modeling data can include anything from voter demographic data, registration data and status, voting history, and contact information like email addresses and phone numbers. It can also contain information learned through phone calls or home visits about the voter’s key issues and positions, their likelihood of voting in the next election, and a score representing the likelihood of the campaign earning their vote.

It’s long been the strategy of the Democratic Party to pool the voter data collected by Democratic campaigns in a master voter record so that future campaigns could borrow it, benefit from it, and add data to it.

Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns started with the DNC voter file, then began adding their own proprietary data to it at the start of the campaign. The campaigns use the same software platform—NGP VAN— for collecting and managing this data; but during the primary the campaigns’ proprietary voter data was kept in separate silos.


Then, on December 16 of last year, a Sanders data staffer got access to some proprietary Clinton voter data (the result of a software bug), and when the DNC found out it cut the Bernie campaign’s access to its voter records in NGP VAN. Bernie sued the DNC for damages and the restoration of access to the voter records. The staffer was fired, and the whole mess was eventually worked out between the parties.

Buried in the court documents is the data agreement between the Sanders campaign and the DNC, which spells out the fate of his voter data. In short, the agreement states that if Sanders drops out of the primary race, the campaign’s proprietary voter data is then joined with the DNC’s master file, which it can then lend it to whatever campaign it sees fit. So, legally at least, and barring any separate verbal agreement between the parties, the Clinton camp can use the data for modeling and targeting right now.

The Golden Lists

Now to the complex and murky part about the Sanders camp’s email, volunteer, and donor lists. These assets are extremely valuable to the Clinton campaign because they represent the true Sanders believers whom Hillary needs to convince to fall in line in November. The volunteers and donors are especially important because they are proven political actors and their support could help lead other Sanders faithful into the Clinton fold.

These lists have no doubt been the subject of some intense negotiation between the two campaigns, and the two sides may have already signed agreements detailing what list elements the Clinton side can use and under what terms. While I have no direct knowledge of those agreements, my sources, who have all held leadership roles in presidential campaigns, had little trouble guessing the rough outlines of the deals based on their own past experience and on the current political situation in the 2016 race.

Several campaign operatives told me that the Sanders camp is neither inclined to completely deny Clinton access to the email, volunteer, and donor lists, nor to hand them over gratis. It will be something in between, and the Clinton camp will have to pay for them.

The Clinton camp will almost certainly leverage the Sanders campaign’s donor list (arguably the most valuable data asset of all) in some way. That list is thick with the email addresses of people who made the small donations that fueled the populist campaign.


The Clinton side may try to license the full list. One insider told me such licensing deals can be done in one of several ways. Most often, this means either a CPM (impressions per thousand) deal, where actual responses from the donors don’t impact the price. Or, a revenue-sharing agreement might be struck, wherein the Clinton campaign would contact the donors and give a portion of any new donations to the remaining Sanders campaign apparatus, which still has bills to pay. Typically, the major cut of the proceeds goes to the owner of the list, and 60/40 splits are common. This might be an attractive option for the Clinton side if they’re concerned that they have little chance of soliciting donations from portions of the list.

One source says that the Sanders camp might agree to send out emails to donors on Clinton’s behalf, then hand over to her only the email addresses of people who decided to donate as a result. There is precedent for this. Sanders has solicited his donors to contribute to various congressional candidates. He’s even gone down to the state level, asking his donors to help the campaign of Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary of the New York gubernatorial election of 2014.

The Sanders campaign’s communications director, Michael Briggs, sent me a three-word response to an email suggesting that the donor and email list sharing between the campaigns is already happening: “You are wrong,” it said. Briggs did not respond to follow-up calls and emails. The Sanders camp also “confirmed” to an NBC producer Wednesday that the Bernie donor list had not been loaned or licensed—not yet. This sparked speculation that the lists might be transferred to a new Sanders PAC for use in future progressive political initiatives.

As for the email list (also massive), Sanders supporters aren’t likely to suddenly start getting emails from the Clinton campaign, although, as The Atlantic points out, the privacy terms at the Sanders campaign’s website seem to permit it: “His campaign website’s privacy policy reserves the right to share supporters’ information with “groups, causes, organizations, or candidates we believe have similar views, goals, and principles,” it reads.

The exact size of the list isn’t public information but it’s larger than 3 million names, says a spokesperson for Revolution Messaging, the firm that manages the Sanders email list. Rather than the Clinton side sending email directly to the list, it’s far more likely that the appointed broker (Revolution Messaging), would send mailouts on the Clinton campaign’s behalf using messaging approved by the Bernie side. They would look and read like Sanders emails.

As for the volunteer lists, one campaign insider told me that the lists are typically not shared by campaigns, and when they are they’re rolled into the donor and email list agreements, one presidential campaign officer told me.


Several of my sources pointed out to me that no single Sanders data asset or list is likely to swing the election for Hillary. But each may have a small positive effect, and their cumulative effect may matter in the end—especially if the race between Hillary and Trump ends up being a nail-biter this November.

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.