Data breach or ‘bogeyman’?
An official with the Jackson County Democrats resigned Thursday while issuing a scathing rebuke of ranking party members who she said failed to explain a breach of confidential information that could provide an unfair advantage to campaigns and undermine neutrality during the primary.
“They continue to not tell the truth,” said Joyce Chapman, former chairwoman of the Neighborhood Leaders Program. “Therein lies the reason why I have resigned.”
Chapman said Julie McFadden, campaign chairwoman for the Democrats, admitted to her that she had given access to a website for the Neighborhood Leaders Program to Cathy Shaw, campaign chairwoman for the Jeff Golden for Senate District 3 campaign.
“In the course of these conversations, she tells me she had shown Cathy Shaw her login and information about the neighborhood leadership program,” Chapman said.
McFadden resigned a week ago after a contentious meeting with the executive committee of the Jackson County Democrats as members were discussing allegations about the possible data breach. Partially because of McFadden’s departure, the Democratic Party canceled a candidates’ forum Tuesday.
Both McFadden and Shaw say Chapman has blown what happened out of proportion and that there was no large-scale alleged data breach, while pointing out that Senate District 3 candidates Julian Bell and Kevin Stine also have access to the program website because they are neighborhood leaders.
“I’m 100 percent confident these allegations are false,” McFadden said. “This is a bogeyman in an echo chamber.”
The newly formed Neighborhood Leaders Program is designed to enlist the support of volunteers who will contact 35 people in their neighborhood to help get out the vote but not to advocate for a particular candidate or issue.
The program is run by the Democratic Party of Oregon with a basic mission to get Democrats to send in their ballots.
McFadden said the party leadership and the Democratic Party of Oregon have looked into this and determined the allegations have not been founded in reality.
“Unfortunately, Joyce continues to perpetuate these allegations,” she said. “Her unfounded theories and rumors have been found not to be true.”
McFadden said she remains confident in her own integrity and neutrality.
Chapman’s “representation of me is not accurate, and I am disappointed she is representing all the good works of not only me by also hundreds of volunteers who work tirelessly to support progressive values,” McFadden said.
Shaw approached McFadden about Golden possibly becoming a neighborhood leader and also to see whether there was a way to coordinate the Golden campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort with the Neighborhood Leaders Program.
While explaining the program to Shaw, McFadden, who is also a neighborhood leader, said she logged on to the program and showed Shaw a list of some 35 names of people in McFadden’s neighborhood.
“I said, ‘Here’s an example of what you’d get,’” McFadden said. “It’s like somebody showing the spoke of a bicycle. It is information so pared down that you don’t really understand what you’re looking at.” She said she didn’t show Shaw the 200 names of the neighborhood leaders.
However, McFadden said she later was told by the Democratic Party of Oregon not to share login information, and she said she agreed that login information, though it’s available to neighborhood leaders, shouldn’t have been disclosed.
While rumors of the controversy swirl among local Democrats, Chapman said party leaders struggle with how to explain themselves and to come clean about the events leading up to McFadden’s resignation.
“To me this epitomizes what happened at the DNC in 2016,” Chapman said, referring to the Democratic National Committee scandal in which many Bernie Sanders supporters believed rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton got an unfair advantage from her party during the primary.
But in recent months Chapman said she was under increasing pressure to give access to the list to other campaigns, including the campaign to support the Medford school bond, also being run by Shaw.
As a result of the problems, Chapman said an effort has been made to lock down the database to prevent unauthorized access to it.
Shaw said she only got a brief glimpse of the Democrats that McFadden would contact as a neighborhood leader when she saw the website.
“I didn’t pay any attention to the list of names,” she said.
Shaw said in no way did she think McFadden was trying to show favoritism to the Golden campaign. “She’s a person with enormous integrity,” said Shaw, who pointed out that McFadden was an aide to the late Sen. Alan Bates.
Shaw said she originally thought that there might be some way to coordinate her own get-out-the-vote campaign with the Neighborhood Leaders Program.
“I wanted to see the web page to see if it was comparable,” she said.
Getting limited access didn’t provide her with any information about neighborhood leaders, but she said any of the campaigns could get access since all you have to do is sign up as a neighborhood leader, Shaw said.
The list wouldn’t be of much value, she said, because it wouldn’t provide anything more than what her own research, available through public records, has provided.
“The story is that people don’t understand what is available to all of us,” she said.
Her philosophy about these kinds of get-out-the-vote efforts is to remain neutral and not endorse any campaign or measure, Shaw said.
“You don’t do persuasion in a GOTV (get out the vote),” she said.
Ultimately, she said there was too much suspicion around her motives with some Democrats, so the idea of joining forces was abandoned.
Shaw said Medford bond measure supporters had hoped to coordinate with the Neighborhood Leaders Program to get more voters activated in Medford.
Because the joint effort failed to work, Shaw said Medford School Board Chairwoman Karen Starchvick is pursuing on her own signing up volunteers to help get out the vote.
When Chapman volunteered to take over running the committee a year ago, she said she had never done anything like it before. During that year, she said she had been having success in her get-out-the-vote effort and had more than 200 volunteers acting as neighborhood leaders.
But, she said things changed when McFadden took over as campaign chair for the local party. Increasingly, McFadden wanted to coordinate more with the neighborhood leader committee.
Alarmed, Chapman said she approached David Roadman, chairman of Jackson County Democrats, but she said he largely ignored her calls and email. Roadman didn’t return several calls from the Mail Tribune over the past week.
As the pressure mounted to coordinate with campaigns, Chapman said she stood her ground and tried to fend off working with McFadden.
“I fired back, ‘I will not report to this woman,’” she said.
Chapman, after learning that McFadden had shown information to Shaw, sent an email recently telling volunteers not to share information about the neighborhood leaders with any campaign.
In the email, she stated, “You may have already been asked for this information. I hope you didn’t share it. If you did, please let me know but do not do it again.”
The problems reached a peak at a meeting with the executive committee last Sunday.
Chapman read out a statement detailing the problems she’d been having and asked for disciplinary action against McFadden, including possibly her resignation.
Chapman said she told the committee that McFadden had revealed information about the neighborhood leaders being released to Shaw. She said McFadden had also mentioned to other Democrats that she’d released the information. McFadden also had asked Chapman to share information with Starchvick to help with the school bond measure, she said. At the same time, the Democratic Party of Oregon had told Chapman not to share the information, she said.
When McFadden arrived later to the meeting, she acknowledged she’d given the login information to Shaw who saw a list of some 40 names, Chapman said.
At this point, McFadden tendered her resignation, Chapman said.
“The issue is that the campaign chair gave a political consultant in a contested race information that violated the neutrality of the neighborhood leaders,” Chapman said.
She said she doesn’t blame any particular campaign for trying to get access to the information, though, but laid the blame on the leadership of Jackson County Democrats for not taking steps to protect the program.
Another neighborhood leader, Michelle Blum Atkinson, a candidate for House District 5, said she thought what started out as a miscommunication has become overblown.
“I wouldn’t call it a data breach,” she said.
Atkinson, who was formerly communications chair for the Democrats, said she actually helped sign up her opponent, Rick Schreffler, as a neighborhood leader at the Pear Blossom Parade.
“It’s a very grass-roots effort,” she said.
Atkinson said she had full faith in McFadden’s ability to remain impartial. In fact, she asked McFadden to join her campaign at one point but McFadden declined.
“I think she is one of the most ethical people I have ever met,” Atkinson said. “She was trying to help all the Democratic candidates.”
Atkinson said Democratic party leaders plan to meet today to talk about the issue.
Golden said he’s received emails from people wondering what’s going on, but he doesn’t think any information has been improperly passed to his campaign.
“Some people say, ‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire,’” he said. “I say it’s a pretty sorry distraction.”
Kevin Stine, Golden’s opponent for the Senate seat, said, “I don’t like the situation we are in as a party, but I don’t believe whatever happened should be buried for the benefit of Jeff Golden’s campaign.”
He said a week after the problem came to light, there are not good answers coming from party leaders.
“I would like voters to know the whole truth of the matter, and unfortunately we don’t seem to be getting it at this time,” he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.