What's in a Domain?

Local politicos find themselves tangled in the Web

Indeed, it appears that were it not for Moritz's intervention, the U.S. Senate would be wide open on the dot-com flank. "We just did any senators that happened to be available at the time, which happened to be about 80 of 'em," says Moritz. (Friend to Friend also has registered paulwellstone.com; www.wellstone.com takes you to a tour-bus operator specializing in Japanese charter groups.) He declines to say how many names he's registered altogether, but volunteers that 75 to 80 domains have been "returned" to their rightful owners including frankieavalon.com and peterfalk.com. He also won't discuss what kind of remuneration has been involved, saying only that he invites--but does not demand--donations.

But that wasn't the impression Seattle Times technology reporter Peter Lewis got when he received an e-mail from Friend to Friend earlier this year, notifying him that peterlewis.com could be his for a "fair price." In a February column, Lewis reported that his offer of $100 was rebuffed; instead, the domain went to New York Times tech writer Peter H. Lewis.

Peter H. Lewis, for his part, explains that Friend to Friend initially approached him seeking a donation of "several thousand dollars" to itself or charities it supported. Lewis ultimately ponied up $100, plus an equal donation to the American Diabetes Association in Friend to Friend's name. Concludes Lewis: "Paying them for peterlewis.com remains one of the more shameful acts I've committed since I was, as George W. Bush describes it, young and irresponsible."

As for rodgrams.com, says the campaign's Cary, he would like to reclaim the domain from Friend to Friend. Last week a foundation staffer informed Cary that the group would be happy to turn the name over as a "gift," but that "if you would like to reimburse our costs, or help with an amount of your choice, it will be appreciated." The group's expenses, the letter continued, had run around $650--a figure Cary says sounds "reasonable."

Grams isn't the only local Senate hopeful negotiating potential cyberlandmines. Most of the candidates for the Democratic nomination have already put together campaign sites: University of Minnesota medical-ethics specialist Steve Miles offers position papers at www.milesforsenate.org, U.S. Rep. David Minge asks visitors to sign up at www.minge.org, and former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug's beaming mug adorns www.lillehaug.org.

But Ken Martin, field director for the Lillehaug campaign, notes that the organization recently learned that both lillehaug.net and lillehaug.com have been registered by a political consulting firm called Electnet. At Electnet's Clark Summit, Pennsylvania, office, a man who identifies himself as the firm's president and gives his name only as "Chris" explains that the company doesn't want a big ransom for the names: Instead, "we want to help [candidates] develop those names into active Web sites." Chris says Electnet has contacted the Lillehaug campaign and that "the ball's in their court."

Lillehaug's troubles may be nothing compared to those faced by Minge: While www.minge.org will take you to the official campaign site, www.minge.com offers decidedly apolitical "Real Amateur Wives, Girlfriends, and Lovers." The fact comes as news to Minge political director Mike Kennedy: "This is the first I've heard of it," he told City Pages recently. "I guess we're going to have to decide what, if any, recourse is possible."

Another name often mentioned in discussions of the 2000 Senate race is that of Michael Ciresi, the Minneapolis attorney famed for his firm's work on the state's tobacco lawsuit. A pair of likely sites, www.ciresi2000.org and .com, are registered to one Peter Lucas of Bridgewater, New Jersey, a recent M.B.A. graduate who says he's taken to domain-name speculation while looking for a job. (Ciresi, who has not declared his plans, did not return several phone calls.) Lucas has also snapped up lillehaug2000.com, davidlillehaug.com, and miles2000.com, not to mention wellstone2002.org and .com and even ventura2002.com and .org--even though it's hardly clear that either Minnesota's senior senator or its governor will be seeking reelection to their current jobs.

In all, Lucas says, he's holding 150 to 200 names including "a lot of general business names;" he refuses to disclose exactly how much he'd charge to sell any one of them, but says $5,000 to $10,000 would probably be a reasonable value. So far, he confesses, he hasn't sold a single domain. But in the long term, he figures, politicians will want what he's got. Asked how he feels about the ethics of cybersquatting, Lucas allows that "it's a bummer that people have to pay for their sites." But, he concludes, "if I'm not going to do it, some one else is."

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