Democrat Bruce Fisher says when he decided to run for the state House of Representatives, he thought he could count on the Oklahoma Democratic Party to assist all Democratic candidates equally in getting their messages out to voters.
Instead, Fisher says he encountered a system that favors incumbents.
“I’m shocked,” said Fisher, 62, of Oklahoma City. “The Democratic Party, of all parties, should be encouraging the most participation and fairest opportunity for the electorate to choose who they want to represent them.”
What has Fisher upset is a decision by Oklahoma Democratic Party officials to revoke his access to a voter database maintained by the Democratic Party after his primary opponent, incumbent Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, decided to seek re-election in House District 97.
Fisher said the database is a “brilliant tool” that is critical to running an effective campaign. It contains difficult-to-obtain information, such as contact information for district voters, as well as their voting histories. The data enables campaign workers to efficiently target their efforts toward Democratic voters most likely to vote in the upcoming June 24 primary election, he said.
Trav Robertson, executive director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said policy decisions regarding access are more complicated than they might at first appear.
When the state Democratic Party licenses candidates to use the voter database, it requires those candidates to update the database with information obtained in the course of their campaigns.
Candidates gather and update the database with information such as voter email addresses, updated telephone numbers, addresses they have determined to be wrong and the identities of deceased voters.
That information then is available to assist Democratic candidates running for other offices as well as future candidates for the same office.
Robertson said it would seem unfair to require an incumbent candidate who has painstakingly gathered and contributed voter information to the database to turn that information over so it could be used by a candidate running against him or her.
“The pragmatic aspect of it is that some of the data that is put back into the voter file, in any other profession would be considered proprietary in nature,” Robertson said.
“We are constantly asking them to put data back into the voter file. That is an effort on behalf of the Oklahoma Democratic Party to create a database that benefits candidates running for office and it is also done with the help of incumbent candidates.
“Something like this is extremely beneficial to a party organization as it moves not only to re-brand itself, but also to focus on surgical voter contact,” he said.
There are other sources for similar data and the party made Fisher aware of that when it revoked his access to the database, Robertson said.
GOP policy differs
The Oklahoma Republican Party also maintains a voter database, but has a different candidate access policy.
“What we have access to, we provide to anyone that’s running in the Republican race, regardless of whether it’s an incumbent or challenger,” said John Roberts, political director with the state Republican Party. “If a campaign contacts us and wants help, we’re always happy to help them that way.”
Roberts said the Republican Party doesn’t charge its candidates for access to its voter data.
The Democratic Party charges candidates for state and national office amounts that vary, depending on the political race.
Presidential campaigns are charged $10,000; candidates for statewide office, $3,000; Congressional candidate campaigns, $1,500; state Senate campaigns, $400; and state House campaigns, $200. The amount municipal and county candidates pay for database access varies depending on population.
Fisher’s $200 fee was returned when his access to the database was revoked.
Robertson said Fisher is not the first candidate to complain.
“While I understand Mr. Fisher’s frustration, ... I ... am responsible for carrying out what’s in the best interest of the Oklahoma Democratic Party,” Robertson said.
Incumbent Shelton, who has served 10 years in the state House of Representatives, said Fisher’s beef was with the party, and he didn’t have anything to say about the issue.
The winner of the Democratic primary race between Fisher and Shelton will face Republican Tonni Canaday, of Spencer, in the general election.