Why The Democratic Party of WI (DPW) Didn’t Let Congressional Candidate Buchholz Use The State Party’s VoteBuilder (VAN) Database

By Dennis Brault
The Daily Call (2/28/16)

The other night  night I messaged Martha Lanning, the Chair of the DPW, and asked her if it was correct, that the state Democratic Party refused to Sell 3rd CD congressional candidate Myron Buchholz (D), the party’s VoteBuilder (VAN) database of the 3rd CD voters. Here is her reply:

Thanks Dennis for the note. There are several systems that offer voter id information to candidates. All Democrats are given direction on how to get a system to help them target voters. A Democrat that has paid their dues and is recognized as a Democrat is in good standing which if the information above is true makes Myron a good standing democrat. Myron was directed to Nations Builder which is a very good targeting system.

I thanked Martha for her reply and asked if there was a reason any and all Democratic candidates couldn’t just purchase VAN access? I’m still waiting for her reply.

From my quick study of the Nation Builder website, it looks like anyone, from any party, can use it for $29/MTH. Clearly Nation Builder database is an alternative. But how good? How accurate? Don’t know. But that is not the point, the DPW uses VoteBuilder (VAN), as do all the county parties and other Dem candidates in “good standing” with the party. It is into VAN that all the data from past election calls and walks was entered. Obviously the DPW feels the VAN database is better.

The Facebook discussion has continued:

Steve Carlson: They did suggest Nation Builder but I’d still like to know why we can’t access their voter file. I paid party dues for years.

Matthew Schauenburg: Was Larson given VAN access in his bid to unseat Abele, I have to wonder?

Susan Davison: Jeez, that makes us look just as bad as Republicans.

David Schuster: What? Protectionism for the ruling class? Say it ain’t so

Facebook private message:

Jack Ingersoll: I talked to Brita Olsen of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin/political director regarding Myron Buchholz.I asked her why Myron was not in “good standing” with the Wisconsin Democratic Party. She said it wasn’t a question of being in “good standing”. It was an issue that the Democratic Party Wisconsin had rules in this Constitution where a challenger can’t have access to the VAN list due to the fact that the incumbent has spent his or her own money and the labor of others to create the Democratic mailing list in their congressional district. So it would not be fair to share that work with a challenger.

She did say that she talked to Myron’s political/campaign director and explain this and gave her the names of several other organizations that in practical terms have just about the same list of names that Myron could purchase and for price is less than what the Democratic Party would charge him for its VAN list.

I explained to Brita Olsen that I thought regardless of the money and work that the incumbent put into creating a mailing/ contact list that the VAN list becomes common property to be used by both Democratic incumbent and challenger. I said that this would create a level playing ground where incumbent and challenger compete equally. I told her that it was wrongheaded for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to do this and to have this rule in its Constitution/bylaws.

Let’s examine Brita’s reasoning for not granting Myron Buchholz access to the VAN. She says they can’t, Jack writes, “due to the fact that the incumbent has spent his or her own money and the labor of others to create the Democratic mailing list in their congressional district. So it would not be fair to share that work with a challenger.”

How much money does an incumbent spend on VAN? Most of the VAN data entries from previous elections  were done at the county level by thousands of volunteers and not paid campaign staff.  So I understand the labor of others part, but I don’t understand why it is assumed that those doing the labor would only want the fruits of it to go to an incumbent. In fairness we should assume they would prefer all candidates to have equal access to the VoteBuilder data.

What about Brita’s argument that incumbents spent their money on creating it? A thought experiment. Let’s suppose Myron is denied VAN access and yet somehow pulls off the upset win. In two years Myron is the incumbent up for reelection. Myron is in “good standing” and will be granted VAN access. All without Myron spending a dime on it.

That brings us to Brita’s claim that “Democratic Party Wisconsin had rules in this Constitution where a challenger can’t have access to the VAN.” 

Constitution of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin ARTICLE VIII -
Endorsements of Candidates in Primary Elections:

The state organization, congressional district organizations, county organizations, the College Democrats of Wisconsin, the youth caucus, and all other subdivisions at any level of the state organization are prohibited from endorsing or supporting any candidate in a Democratic presidential preference election or any partisan primary election which will determine the candidate of the Democratic Party for the ensuing 7 election to office unless the county or local Democratic group or congressional district recommends a certain candidate (or candidates) be endorsed or supported due to unusual circumstances and these circumstances be submitted in writing to the state Administrative Committee in a timely manner for approval of an endorsement and support of a specific candidate (or candidates) for a specific reason and the Administrative Committee approves said recommendation by a twothirds majority

Simply says the state party can’t endorse or support one candidate in a partisan primary election. Endorse is straightforward enough, but what defines “support”?

Better take a look at rules in the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s bylaws

Section 6.d- d. All incumbent Democratic officeholders and declared Democratic candidates as well as candidates for Democratic Party office at any level, who are members of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin or their designated representative may purchase the appropriate list of Party members, in whatever media form would be most useful, except where a county unit requests that its list be withheld. The procedures for obtaining such lists shall be set by the staff so there is not unreasonable burden on the facilities and personnel in state headquarters and the chance for indiscriminate circulation of the names and addresses is minimized. The lists shall be provided at no expense to the state party and with actual cost to the individual requesting such list. Elected officials and candidates will be required to sign a statement promising, warranting, and covenanting that they will only utilize the list for their political purposes, and will not sell or transfer the list to anyone else.

Section 6.f.The Wisconsin voter file which is administered by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) will be made available to all the following individuals/groups in good standing with the DPW and legislative caucuses: all incumbent Democratic Party officeholders, Democratic nominees for public office, Democratic legislative campaign committees, and county, local unit, and Congressional District affiliates of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Voter file will be made available to non-partisan candidates who are in compliance with the membership requirements detailed in Article 1, Section 6(e), contingent upon the recommendation of their county party leadership. In the case of multi-jurisdiction or statewide races, such recommendations will be made by the State Chair, subject to review by the Executive Committee. Multiple recommendations for a specific office are allowed.

All other requests made by individuals, candidates, groups, organizations, or political committees not specified above, must be approved by the State Chair, subject to review by the Executive Committee. All appeals for reversals or exceptions are subject to review by the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. 

The Wisconsin voter file and other Democratic Party list access fees will be determined by the Executive Committee established fair market value, as required by state regulation.

My reading of the relevant (BOLD) parts of the state party bylaws is: Brita is right they don’t allow candidates challenging an incumbent, access to the Wisconsin Voter file. The answer must be no. However the rules do allow a backdoor, for a determined candidate, to appeal to the state party chair for an exemption.  The chair’s decision is then forwarded to the  Executive Committee for review, giving the challenger another opportunity to appeal for an exemption if needed.

Is this unequal support favoring incumbents constitutional? The favoritism bias, is exemplified by the state party bylaws, which force the party to support only the incumbent access to VAN and not a primary challenger. which raises this constitutional question: Does the incumbent bias, built into the bylaws, of not allowing a challenger access to the Wisconsin Voter file, count as the state party giving “support” to the incumbent candidate? I think it does.

Why am I not surprised that the bylaws are written with a built in bias for incumbents? When and why was this incumbent bias added to the bylaws?  Perhaps a resolution fixing this bias, in the party’s bylaws, should be brought before the 3rd CD convention this year? Then we can ask our incumbent representatives, who are present at the convention, why they feel they are entitled to exclusive access to the data gathered by hundreds of volunteer Democrats across the district. Who knows maybe we can even get their support to send it onto the state convention. Then we will see if the body gathered wants to amend the bylaws to fix this bias.

If you think the state party is wrong to deny Democratic congressional candidate Myron Buchholz access to the party’s 3rd CD voter data, but allow his opponent Rep. Ron Kind have access. Then let the party know so they can grant Myron an exception and next support amending the party’s bylaws at this year’s district and state conventions

Chair Martha Laning: [email protected]; (608) 255-5172
Executive Director Kory Kozloski: [email protected]; (608) 255-5172
Political Director Brita Olsen: [email protected]; (608) 260-2421

There is only one way to change the state party and that’s one county at a time.

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