Tevlin: Think politics can't sink lower? Well, www.thinkagain ...

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2012 - 9:39 PM

I think all of us, regardless of political orientation, can agree that it can't possibly get any worse in politics, that the level of crass, petty sniping has finally driven our opinion of the people who represent us to the ultimate bottom.

Pregnant pause for dramatic effect.

Well, get a load of this.

While the empire burned and the foreclosure crisis loomed and the economy teetered on the brink, some of our best political minds have been pretty busy -- busy pranking each other over Internet domains.

Let's start in Edina, where Angela Berger, the Web editor for the GOP's Senate District 41 site, moved quickly when the redistricting plans were announced and her district was largely moved to District 49. She immediately purchased the domains for websites sd49dfl.com, sd49dfl.org, sd49democrats.com, sd49 democrats.org and dflsd49.com. In essence, she squatted on the sites to keep Senate Democrats from getting logical Internet addresses to post their views.

Former DFL District 41 chair Tom LaForce discovered Berger's domain registries and posted it on his Facebook page, which was then picked up by Edina Patch, a local news website.

Now let's go way out to the western edge of the state, where farmer and long-time DFL strategist John Schultz is running for the Senate. As he considered his run back in December, Schultz checked to see whether the domain www.schultzforsenate.com was available. It was.

Just before Schultz filed for office, he tried to buy the domain. Surprisingly, it had been bought -- by Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing.

Schultz was perplexed. What did Howe want that domain for "unless he was going to run under an assumed name"? Schultz then bought up all the other possible combinations of his name and the office he was seeking so Howe or other Republicans wouldn't freeze him out of the Internet.

People who buy up domains do it for different reasons. Some do it to trash the person in question. Others do it for money or retribution.

Marshall Tanick, a First Amendment attorney in Minneapolis, said this is a new-tech version of candidates who block out television time from opponents, only it costs a lot less (from $4.99 to about $12). He said celebrities have successfully sued people who held their domains because the celebrity is considered to "have an economic interest in their own name."

Tanick thinks a politician or "Joe Blow" could win such a suit "if they are motivated enough and have the money."

In an e-mail response, Berger said she "didn't even know about this technique of buying domain names until I saw this past summer that someone had purchased a derivative of my blog name and redirected it to the SD41Democrats website."

Berger said she acted alone, not in unison with the party: "just my use of what appears to be a legitimate political technique first enacted to benefit the Edina/Bloomington Democrats."

Howe said his motivation was different: money.

He said that, as an owner of Sears outlets, he learned domain names could be valuable, and began to buy them up. Howe insists that of all the names in the universe, he plucked the name "Schultz" out. "Schultz is a pretty common name, and now it's mine," he said, a bit of glee creeping into his voice. "There's going to be some Schultz across the country running" for Senate.

Howe insists he acted alone, and is not trying to keep anyone from their domain for political reasons. Instead, he will sell a domain to a politician who asks: $100 for Republicans, $150 for Democrats. (A day after I talked to him, however, the domain ownership had gone private and it was now for sale for $499).

So keen is Howe's prescience to guess potential candidates that he did NOT buy schultzforhouse.com, which is still available, even though the odds are far more probable someone named Schultz would run for House.

Howe did offer that "sometimes a good defense is a good offense."

The real John Schultz for Senate isn't buying it.

"There are lots more Andersons, Carlsons, Johnsons, Olsons and Petersons running for public office than there are Schultzes," said Schultz. "With all the work facing the Minnesota Senate, one would think that senators had better things to do than play silly Internet games."

Kate Monson, communications director for the DFL, said if Democrats are playing games with Internet domains, "we would not encourage anyone to engage in this petty exercise." She called for a "cease and desist" from such tactics.

Since our legislators and political strategists seem to have a lot of free time on their hands, I have a money-making tip free of charge. The domain for www.mnpoliticaldirtytricks.com is still available, but considering how things are trending, you better hurry.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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