ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today, a major dispute erupted in the Democratic presidential primary, and it's all about data. The Democratic National Committee has locked Vermont senator Bernie Sanders' campaign out of a national database of information about voters. The DNC took that step after a Sanders staffer used the database to access information gathered and owned by Hillary Clinton's campaign. Now the Sanders campaign has asked a federal court to block the DNC's actions so it can get back access to that data. NPR's Ron Elving is here to sort this all out. Ron, what exactly happened here?
RON ELVING, BYLINE: This much is clear. At least one of Sanders' staffers accessed information he should not have been able to see - a firewall should have kept him out - data that had been provided by the Hillary Clinton campaign to the DNC and therefore should have been in a proprietary part of their database. Now, you have understand the national party apparatus maintains this database. Every Democratic campaign has some access. But since they all add some of their own information and analysis to that data, it's supposed to be proprietary if it comes from them and only accessible by the originating campaign. So that's the original no-no here. That's the reason the Sanders campaign had to fire that staff and then the reason the DNC locked them out of their own data.
SHAPIRO: Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver says the DNC is holding the campaign hostage. And in this lawsuit that the Sanders campaign has filed, they say this will cost their campaign $600,000 a day in lost donations, not to mention damage to Sanders' reputation. Is the data really all that important?
ELVING: The data is highly important. And there is some question here of how long they would actually be deprived of it while the DNC was analyzing the firewall loss and the degree of the breach of secrecy. But they did not want to be sitting around all those days waiting to know when they'd be allowed to start using it for fundraising, contacting voters again. And, of course, in the meantime, the attention being paid to this controversy is giving them the best fundraising opportunity and voter contact opportunity that they've had in months.
SHAPIRO: Ah, so perhaps that's what this is really all about. Perhaps this is getting at some deeper animosity between the Sanders campaign and the DNC. It seems like there's a lot of shouting and finger-pointing happening.
ELVING: Indeed, there is. There is long-running tension between those two entities. And this is a huge opportunity for the Bernie Sanders campaign. It feels it's been ignored by the national media. It calls it a corporate blackout of coverage of the Bernie Sanders campaign. So here they are. They can cast themselves - even though there was a transgression by one of their staffers, they can cast themselves as the giant killer taking on the national party. They can energize their supporters. And they do have a narrative here because they got some big endorsements this past week. They've been piling up a lot of donations from individuals. And they're doing well. They're ahead in New Hampshire. They are still in the running in Iowa. He's far behind in the national polls, but he has a pathway. This is their big opportunity, in the debate tomorrow night, to talk about some of this. We'll see how far they can go with it.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.