One-time campaign Web sites serving other purposes now

Saturday, September 8, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- The Web site that last year was then-Sen. John Ashcroft's official campaign Web site and pulpit of his "Missouri Values" theme is serving a purpose he has no control over and could never have imagined -- as a portal to pornography.

Meet the dilemma facing politicians: What do they do with their campaign Web sites once the yard signs and ballot boxes are put away?

What happened to the site used by Ashcroft, now the nation's attorney general, demonstrates that dropping control of it can be risky, explaining why an ally has helped Gov. Bob Holden keep control of more than a dozen Web site names.

"It's to protect us from a site we didn't want to be associated with. ... We do it for all our clients," Lazarus Potter, whose Kansas City Web site firm last year worked for Holden's campaign and holds the site-name rights, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story Friday.

To Potter, using one-time campaign Web sites for questionable, unrelated purposes might be meant to attack or embarrass a politician or celebrity -- or for others, to simply get attention.

Some have sued

The issue goes to the highest levels of politics. By changing a few letters on the White House's official Web site, Internet surfers can access porn or parody sites.

Some companies and candidates have sued over the practice but got mixed results. In Virginia last year, a gubernatorial candidate unsuccessfully went to court to force a critic to give up control over a parody site with a Web address similar to the candidate's campaign site.

While Ashcroft's aides have declined to discuss what happened to their boss' old Web site, the firm controlling it is telling prospective buyers the owners won't consider offers less than $550. The usual cost to register, and effectively control, a Web site: $35 to $50 for a two-year period.

The firm controlling the former Ashcroft campaign site gives an address in the country of Armenia. The Post-Dispatch said no one returned messages left on the firm's U.S. phone number.

Jim Talent, the Missouri Republican who lost to Holden and now plans a U.S. Senate bid next year, continues to control at least four old Internet sites acquired for last year's gubernatorial campaign.

A spokesman said Talent's Senate exploratory committee has no plans to retain control of the site names when the registrations expire, though that could change if the campaign worries someone might acquire the registrations to embarrass Talent.

Sen. Jean Carnahan, the Democrat who Talent expects to face, has registered about a dozen site names, aides say.

"It just makes sense to cast a wide net," Carnahan spokesman Tony Wyche said.

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