Local Democrats filed a complaint with federal elections officials Monday claiming national Republicans have cyber-squatted on a host of websites with congressional candidate Bill Hughes Jr.’s name.
“I think it’s juvenile. I think it’s shortsighted, and I think we need to talk about the issues, rather than violating federal law,” Hughes said in an interview.
The complaint is another of a growing problem for people who seek office — their names being used by someone other than themselves. A 2012 study by the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse found that website domains corresponding to the full names and “.com” of 52 percent of U.S. senators and 60 percent of U.S. representatives were controlled by unrelated third-parties.
The 11-page complaint asks the Federal Elections Commission to investigate the matter, stop the Republicans’ use of the sites, and fine them the maximum amount. It names the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s political arm, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.
“It’s that simple,” said Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Jim Schroeder, who signed the complaint. “There are boundaries in this business, and I think this exceeds the boundaries”
“Since October 2013, the (NRCC) has recently engaged in deceptive, misleading and potentially fraudulent activity by establishing a website that is branded as the website of a Democratic congressional candidate,” the Democrats’ complaint reads. Atlantic County Democrats listed 15 different websites with various combinations of “William Hughes,” “Bill Hughes,” “for Congress” and “for New Jersey”
In one, “williamhughesjrforcongress.com,” viewers are directed to a NRCC subsite and an image of a life-sized pair of handcuffed wrists, overlaid with a graphic that says, “Need to get out of jail? Better Call Bill!” Clicking on a “donate” button allows someone to “Make a contribution today to help defeat Bill Hughes Jr. and candidates like him.”
Registration information shows the site was established in mid-August. Its administrator is Gerrit Lansing, the NRCC’s digital director.
Republicans registered the sites, Hughes said, about six weeks before he decided to run. He acknowledged there had been rumors of a pending run, but said, “I was still deciding if it was the right decision for me and my family.”
The LoBiondo campaign, in a statement, seemed to distance itself from the NRCC.
“You will have to ask the creator of those sites their intent,” wrote LoBiondo campaign manager Ron Filan, who did not respond to follow-up questions. “Frank LoBiondo is always proud to talk about his record of working for South Jersey. We think every candidate ought to be proud of their record and not hide it.”
NRCC spokesman Ian Prior discounted the complaints. “Nobody who spends four seconds at this website” would think the site was a legitimate Bill Hughes Jr. site. “I’m not sure how that in any way, shape or form resembles a website that a congressional candidate will put up to advertise himself,” Prior said.
The Democrats’ complaint points to FEC rules that they say prohibit committees from using names they are not authorized to use. Prior called that argument “ridiculous.”
“Those URLs (website addresses) were for sale,” Prior said. “That’s like saying no one is allowed to use his name without his permission.” The sites exist, Prior said, to educate voters about Hughes. “Cleary he is not putting it up on his own website.”
Hughes, a Northfield attorney, faces software executive David Cole, of Mantua, Gloucester County, in June’s Democratic congressional primary election to represent the 2nd Congressional District.
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