What a Tangled Web Site They Weave

Are Arizona candidates out to deceive?

Last week, state treasurer Tony West got caught in the Web when the dailies reported he was pimping his corporation commission campaign on his state-sponsored treasurer's office Internet site.

The offending statement--"Treasurer West is running for election to the Corporation Commission this year. Click here to visit his campaign web site"--was removed from the site by the next day, but it raises questions about the politics of political Web sites.

This may all seem picayune, but consider the brouhaha in 1996, when U.S. Representative John Moakley, Democrat of Massachusetts, was taken to task by the Associated Press, merely for linking to the Democratic National Committee from his federal Web site.

In fact, the House Members' Congressional Handbook cautions members that when using federally funded Internet sites and equipment, ". . . [the Internet] may NOT be converted to personal or campaign use or applied to any unofficial activity. . . ."

No such rule exists in Arizona--at least, not explicitly.
Mark Fleisher, chair of the Arizona Democratic party, has called on Attorney General Grant Woods to rule whether campaign use of state-owned and -operated Web sites and the state-funded personnel that support them is illegal.

"This has never been an issue before. I think we need to set the ground rules," Fleisher says.

"'Tis the season for election complaints," says AG spokeswoman Karie Dozer. She acknowledges her boss received Fleisher's complaint, but says he hasn't made a decision about pursuing the matter.

Tony West is not the only possible offender. A quick perusal of Arizona political sites raises a litany of questions--ranging from ethical and legal concerns to poor strategy to what appear to be attempts to hoodwink voters.

* www.hull98.org Governor Jane Hull's campaign site isn't linked from her gubernatorial site, www.governor.state.az.us, but it might as well be, given the similarities between the two. The campaign site's registration lists her "webmaster" as Chris Gordon, who happens to be the governor's Webmaster, too.

Gordon, whose official title is "policy advisor for information technology," says he designs Hull's government-sponsored site on state time, but works on her campaign Web site from home, as a volunteer. That's kosher, technically, but still, it's troubling that sections of the two sites are so similar. Specifically, the section on the campaign site listed as "Latest News" is almost identical to the "Latest News" section on the state site. Both sites use the same design to index Hull's state-issued press releases.

Another eyebrow-raiser: Hull's campaign site is assigned to two servers, according to the site's official Internet registration. One site, hullsrv1.hull98.org, is okay, but the second, ntdomain.sosaz.com, is not. It's the Arizona Secretary of State's server, and thus is funded with taxpayer dollars.

Gordon, who looked up the registration after being questioned about it by New Times, says it was a simple oversight on his part. When he originally signed up as a Webmaster for the Secretary of State's Office (he worked for Hull when she was secretary of state), he listed the state server as the one he'd be using. The state server isn't hosting the Hull '98 campaign site now, he says. It's just a carryover because he forgot to change his registration.

"Boy, it'd be a huge conflict of interest," Gordon says. ". . . That's a problem. I've got to change that."

Hull's campaign and state staff may not have noticed the trouble spot, but her opponent's people did. Mo Elleithee, press secretary to Hull's Democratic challenger Paul Johnson, sniffing a political opportunity, says, "The arrogant misuse of the governor's office for campaign purposes leaves me to think one of two things. Either Mrs. Hull's campaign doesn't know any better, or they just don't feel they have to play by the rules. Either way, it's very disturbing."

*www.azleg.state.az.us/members/mgardner.htm Tempe Republican Rep. Mike Gardner's state site is similar to those of his colleagues, until you click on "Mike Gardner's Personal Homepage," which is his campaign site--including a list of endorsements, and "links to pages that show why I deserve to be re-elected."

Apparently, Rep. Gardner hasn't updated his site lately. He's still campaigning for reelection in 1996.

In the realm of tacky, but certainly not illegal:
* www.adega.com Adega isn't a candidate for office. It's an Internet consulting firm run out of Tucson, whose owner spent much of 1997 buying up "domain names"--Web-speak for a site's address--including McCain2000.org, McCain98.org and Forbes2000.com. The firm is now auctioning off the names on its site. Adega owns the rights to more than 40 names, according to Greg Trangmoe, the company's technical director. Forbes2000.com has caught the most attention so far and sold earlier this year. Trangmoe wouldn't say who bought the site or exactly how much they paid. All he'll say is the price topped $20,000.

Anyone can buy a domain name--even an opponent or an opponent's friend. Check out this curious site, at www.ferraro.org. Voters looking for information about U.S. Senate candidate Geraldine Ferraro will receive a message telling them, "Vote D'Amato!", then the page automatically jumps to the government homepage of Ferraro's opponent, incumbent New York Sen. Al D'Amato, at www.senate.gov/~damato. For the record, D'Amato has no connection to the site.

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