Voters scouring the Internet for the latest political updates need to beware — some sites are not what they seem. Political cybersquatters are snatching up domain names — such as www.janetnapolitano.com — to fool people into visiting sites that bash candidates instead of praise them.
For example, the bogus Napolitano site accuses the governor of being soft on immigration, calling her a “Mexican Cheerleading Constitution-ignoring Arizona Governor.” Not what one might expect logging onto a Web site bearing her name.
Most insiders say it’s difficult to judge the effectiveness of hijacking domain names. But during the past decade, the tactic has become a popular weapon in the arsenal of strategists trying to sink their political enemies.
“Since the invention of the Internet, it’s been a timehonored practice to lock up the domain names of your candidate and the ballot initiatives you work on,” said Stan Barnes, a political consultant and former state law- maker.
Barnes said experienced political consultants usually make sure to protect their clients by registering the domain names. He wouldn’t say whether he’s ever worked the other side of it, taking over a site and using it against an opponent.
The issue of cybersquatting surfaced last week after someone seized www.goldwater4governor.com. Web surfers who log on to that address expecting information on GOP gubernatorial candidate Don Goldwater will find themselves on Napolitano’s official campaign Web site.
A spokesman for the Goldwater campaign said they still don’t know who is behind the stunt, but the campaign is trying to find out. But the campaign has no plans to file a legal complaint.
Max Fose, president of Integrated Web Strategy — the firm handling Napolitano’s Web site — said they were not responsible for taking the Goldwater domain name. In fact, officials from both the Napolitano and Goldwater campaigns said they have no idea who’s behind the political trickery.
Fose, who has worked for political heavyweights such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, says he no longer uses those sorts of tactics.
“It’s a gotcha campaign technique that’s outlived its 10 seconds of fame,” he said. “If I did something like that I’d gladly put my name on it. I’m proud of my work.”
Fose also works as a consultant for Arizona Together, the organization fighting to kill Proposition 107, which seeks a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. In that capacity, he’s the beneficiary of yet another campaign stunt.
Internet users logging on to www.prop107.com won’t find much information about the ballot initiative. Instead they’ll find a satirical site that pokes fun at supporters of the measure — namely the Protect Marriage Arizona Coalition.
In one case, the site takes a direct shot at the consultant for the campaign, noted GOP strategist Nathan Sproul. The organizers of the site — who remain unknown — have posted a mock photo of Sproul wearing a black-hooded robe, which gives him the appearance of being a monk or the Grim Reaper.
As a veteran of numerous political wars, Sproul says this kind of stuff comes with the job.
“I’m just the poor victim here,” Sproul joked.
Even if he wanted to take legal action, it might not do much good.
Gail Thackeray, an assistant state attorney general, said the options are limited. While there are no state laws regulating cybersquatting, there are places to file such complaints. However, she said the process is often long and cumbersome.
“The elections will be over by the time anyone could resolve this,” she said.