Pranks, Porn, and Pseudo-Surveys 

Pranks, Porn, and Pseudo-Surveys 

Pranks, Porn, and Pseudo-Surveys 

Tracking politics as it's practiced on the Web.
June 13 2000 9:00 PM

Pranks, Porn, and Pseudo-Surveys 

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Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000. 

Buying an opponent's possible Web site addresses has become one of the easiest tricks in the political book. In New Jersey, Republican operatives and an infamous online porn peddler have turned the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg into a squatter's paradise. The target: Democratic nominee Jon S. Corzine.

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Among those who have bought Corzine-related domain names is Dan Parisi, the owner of the porn site whitehouse.com—perhaps one of the Web's best-known misleading URLs.

Parisi, an avowed nonpartisan, has snatched up corzinesucks.com, an address that could be used to attack the former investment bank executive, whose actual URL is votecorzine.org. He also bought floriosucks.com during the heated primary battle between Corzine and former Democratic Gov. Jim Florio. But Republicans—and Democrats for that matter—are out of luck. Rather than selling the addresses, Parisi said in a telephone interview that he would be incorporating them as part of his forthcoming sucks.com site, which will be dedicated to railing against everyone from George W. Bush to Microsoft.

"I've always wanted some kind of thing where people can talk about politics," said Parisi, who is using the profits from his adult business to finance his new venture into negative politics.

Although GOP operatives can't snag Parisi's suck sites, they have been busy buying up other addresses. Rick Shaftan, an adviser to defeated Republican candidate Murray Sabrin, owns votejoncorzine.com, perhaps deterring accidental visitors from reaching the Democratic candidate's official site at joncorzine.com. Sabrin also owns bobfranks.org and billgormley.com, sites that could have been mistaken for the official addresses of two of Sabrin's primary opponents. (The official sites are bobfranks.com and gormleyforsenate.com.)

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Scott Loughrey, a notorious cybersquatter who has bought possible domain names of numerous political candidates across the country, has also gotten involved in the New Jersey race. The Baltimore entrepreneur and programmer owns the domain name gormley2000.org, which currently redirects users to the official Franks page. In an e-mail interview with the Associated Press, Loughrey recently said his goal was "to make some money, to make social statements, (and) to have some fun."

John Carbone, a Ridgewood, N.J., attorney who has given at least $5,730 to GOP campaigns since 1996, snatched up florio2000.com, forcing Florio to settle for the less obvious florioNJ.com.

Tallying the Presidential "Bids"

Ever since Howard Stern helped flood People magazine's 1998 Most Beautiful People "poll" with votes for Hank the Angry, Drunken Dwarf, Internet surveys have been shunned by political professionals and embraced by struggling candidates. The official Alan Keyes Web site, for example, encouraged visitors to boost the standing of the Republican presidential also-ran in 33 online polls—and he's still winning several.

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Now two Internet auctioneers are asking the supporters of the presidential candidates to make themselves heard in an intriguing new pseudo-survey. Insurance agent Dan Lutz and his artistic wife, Joan, are tallying the amount of the eBay bids they are receiving for original painted portraits of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Since June 1, the couple has reported the daily total as a sort of unscientific online poll.

The survey currently shows that the race is a dead heat, with the bids equaling out at roughly $8 each. But the margin of error is especially high, although it may also be an accurate reflection of public interest in the presidential race. As of June 13, there appear to have been about a dozen total bids, only a couple of which exceeded the starting minimum offer.

The Altamont, Ill., pair are not exactly Beltway pundits, but both have had their brushes with the political major leagues. Dan Lutz likes to talk about his Midwestern values but says he remains nonpartisan for business reasons. He is a State Farm agent who counted the brother of 1998 Illinois gubernatorial candidate Glenn Poshard among his colleagues. Joan Lutz, who painted the candidates' portraits, grew up in the same Park Ridge, Ill., neighborhood as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Lutz said he is not concerned that his method of measuring public opinion is a few points off the results obtained by the pros, most of whose polls currently show Bush ahead of Gore. The pros, after all, aren't out there among the "real" people, he said. "I think that maybe the Clinton—quote, unquote—'legacy' is shadowing Gore in the media, and maybe to the popular grass roots that's not really too important."

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Party Portals

In dueling Washington news conferences last week, Democrats and Republicans showed that they "get it" when it comes to two of the prevailing New Economy marketing schemes—offering something for nothing and over-hyping the obvious.

The Democratic National Committee announced that it would follow on the heels of commercial Internet ventures such as NetZero and PeoplePC by offering free Internet access to anyone willing to volunteer personal information.

The freeDEM service is similar to the Republican National Committee's GOPnet, although the RNC plan charges subscribers $19.95 a month—partially as a fund-raising effort for the party. "We believe people will get exactly what they pay for," House Majority Leader Dick Armey said about the free Democratic service.

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Around the same time Democrats were rolling out their party's new Internet offering, Armey and his colleagues were holding a news conference of their own to hype the House Republican Conference's Web site, "unveiling" a page that made its original debut in January. Earlier in the year, Republicans touted the conference site as a key part of the GOP response to President Clinton's State of the Union address. The GOP site is little changed since then.

McCain's Net Campaign Rides Again

Anyone looking for an indication on how well John McCain is going to handle the transition from his unsuccessful presidential bid back to his day job in the Senate might take a peek at his online political machine.

Max Fose, the McCain campaign's online strategist, is behind the site for the Arizona lawmaker's new Straight Talk America political action committee. On Thursday, the PAC's online team sent its first e-mail urging direct action in support of a measure that McCain was successfully shepherding through the Senate. The e-mail asked people to call their senators to support the McCain proposal, which would force certain political groups—called "527 organizations" after a section in the U.S. tax code—to disclose the names of their donors.

In the Primaries

Several companies that offer turnkey campaign Web sites to political candidates are making it possible for low-budget candidates to save money on their online campaigns. They also present a pitfall to candidates who don't take their out-of-the-box site far enough out of the box.

CampaignOffice.com is providing tools for every Democratic campaign Web site in North Dakota, which is one of four states holding primaries this week. But some of the sites in the Peace Garden State have an eerie similarity. For example, Sen. Kent Conrad and North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Roger Johnson both top their home pages with a graphic that shows the same sun rising over the same tractor in the same field. For easy comparisons, both sites link to each other.