08|24|2008 02:34 pm EDT
With yesterday’s announcement of the Barack Obama and Joe Biden ticket, Domain Name News has launched into full election year campaign coverage. We were at the announcement at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, to see what the Senator from Illinois would tell us about his choice for a new domain name.
Obama refused to comment on why his campaign is not using .mobi *. He refused to comment on whether he’ll be bidding on the ebay auction for ObamaBiden.org . . . . Well alright, he didn’t really refuse. He just couldn’t hear me shouting 25 feet away from him in a sea of his chanting supporters. :) Obviously, there wasn’t any chance I was going to do any talking to Obama, especially about domain names. In all seriousness though, if you are interested, I was actually at the event. Here’s my Obama-Biden campaign pictures.
Back to politics, domain names and Obama-Biden. CNN focused some attention to some of the more obvious choices for domain names for the newly announced Democratic Presidential ticket. ObamaBiden.com would be the obvious choice for the campaign, but before we discuss the Obama-Biden campaign and their domain name strategy, we thought we’d give you a little domain name history from past Presidential winners and hopefuls, a little law tidbit and then a snippet of domain history behind the Barack Obama campaign.
One of the earliest political domain name stories I’ve heard is recalled in David Kesmodel’s Domain Game book. Kesmodel tells the story of watermelon farmer Scott Day who owned the domain name GeorgeBush.com. In 1999 Day, a Bush fan, donated the domain name to then Governor of Texas George Bush. The man responsible for the acquisition was reportedly Karl Rove. According to Kesmodel:
Rove read about domain speculators and decided to grab any names he could think of related to Bush before others could get them. Rove helped the Bush campaign snag about two hundred, including dubya.net bushsucks.com, bushblows.com. Like many early domain name investors, the man later called “Bush’s Brain” showed a flair for anticipating his competition.
Registering domain names ahead of your competition is a strategy seen in campaigns as close to home as local mayoral or city council races, and it’s not just going on in the United States. Some politicians take it a step further and register their opponents’ domain names and some go even further and use domains for “E-mudslinging” In an article from the Denver Post on the topic of registering rival candidate domain names consultant Phil Noble with PoliticsOnline was quoted as saying,
“national candidates tend to be more savvy and lock up their domain names early. But candidates “down the food chain” in state and local races can still overlook the need to lay claim to their name on the Web and the different Web addresses for it”
MarkMonitor’s Frederick Felman stated in the same article
“Savvy, forward-thinking public figures generally have gotten ahead of this and own (Web sites) associated with their public person. They either bought it early before they were famous, or later negotiated to buy it.”
Preventing “Political Cyberfraud”
According to the Post article, California enacted a law called the Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act that is designed to prevent people from registering political candidate domains. Idaho also made an attempt to pass a similar act, but it was stalled in the House.
The California act states :
(b) It is unlawful for a person, with intent to mislead, deceive,
or defraud, to commit an act of political cyberfraud.
(c) As used in this section:
(1) “Political cyberfraud” means a knowing and willful act
concerning a political Web site that is committed with the intent to deny a person access to a political Web site, deny a person the opportunity to register a domain name for a political Web site, or cause a person reasonably to believe that a political Web site has been posted by a person other than the person who posted the Web site, and would cause a reasonable person, after reading the Web site, to believe the site actually represents the views of the proponent or opponent of a ballot measure.
That’s My Name
In the 2004 election, it was clear that the Democratic campaign wasn’t so lucky. The Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards weren’t faced with a political rival beating them to the punch, and it wasn’t that they weren’t savvy or that someone was committing “cyberfraud”. It turned out that there was actually someone whose first and last name was Kerry Edwards. He was the owner of the desirable KerryEdwards.com domain name and all eyes seemed to turn to him. Edwards turned down initial offers “in the five figures” and rushed to put the domain name up for auction on Sedo. CNET reported
In the days after Kerry announced his running mate, Edwards fielded 40 to 50 offers for his domain name, starting at $1,000 and going into five figures. Traffic to his Web site also jumped to 400,000 in three weeks, compared with his usual three hits a month.
Sedo claims in the CNET article that the high bidder at $150,000 pulled out. Kerry Edwards of Indianapolis still owns the domain name and has no regrets. It is after all his name. Kerry told us “I was contacted by someone representing the Kerry campaign the day after they announced Edwards was going to join the ticket. . . they asked me if I was interested in loaning or donating the domain to the campaign. I told them no and that I had been offered $10,000 for the domain already (which I had). The conversation ended and I never heard from them again.” Kerry who was surprised about the power of a domain name that received type-in traffic has since started investing in domain names himself and frequents domain name forums as user “Duceman”
The Kerry-Edwards campaign moved on without the KerryEdwards.com. Rather than using that domain they continued referencing JohnKerry.com on some of it’s marketing materials, but they noticeably left a domain name off of much of their political signage distributed that year, opting for the tag “A Stronger America” instead. Meanwhile their Republican opponents included the GeorgeWBush.com domain name with nearly all of their political paraphernalia. BushCheney.com was owned by a domain investor and
Obama’s Record on Domain Names
Many do not know that the Obama campaign already has a history with domain name related issues. First, Barack Obama doesn’t own Obama.com. In an age when even a Presidential candidate becomes a brand (consider “W” from the 2000 and 2004 election), the brand of Obama permeates. Supporters at the Springfield campaign stop chanted “O” from one side to a reply of “Bama” from the other. The Obama.com domain name would have been a nice feather in the hat for the campaign. However, this desirable domain name resolves to a Japanese landing page. Whether Obama attempted to acquire the domain or not is unclear, but it is clear that users are going to this address. According to Compete.com, the Obama.com domain gets around 50,000 uniques a month currently with peaks as high as 150,000 in past months. Slate.com also points out “commenters on online forums frequently implore fellow readers to “Go to Obama.com”.
Without the Obama.com domain name, the campaign moved forward with the domain name that Obama used during his bid for Senator, BarackObama.com. However, this might have not been the case if it weren’t for a generous Canadian company. In March 2005, the BarackObama.com domain name expired. Fortunately for Obama, expiring domain name auction service Pool.com was able to acquire the deleted domain name. Pool.com went out of their way to recapture the expired domain name, contact the Senator’s staff and return the name to him. In an article in the Canadian Corporate News about the issue, Obama was quoted as saying,
“Websites are important vehicles to provide information to constituents and to boost participation in the political process,” Obama said. “In the wrong hands, a web address can be used to mislead and misrepresent a public official’s record. That is why I am extremely grateful that Pool.com allowed me the opportunity to renew my domain and ensure that the information on the page reflects my values and beliefs.”
History Repeats Itself
Today’s announcement of Obama and Biden as running-mates has suddenly put Lyle Dean in the same hot seat that Kerry Edwards faced in 2004, only Lyle Dean is obviously not named Obama Biden. Dean, the owner of ObamaBiden.com, will be getting similar phone calls this weekend, maybe even from Obama’s Republican rivals.
It seems to be a common trend however for a campaign to continue to use the Presidential nominees current domain name in marketing materials rather than a domain name incorporating both candidates. After making their VP picks, Bush continued to push GeorgeWBush.com and Kerry continued with JohnKerry.com. For now it appears that Barack Obama will continue to use BarackObama.com.
The Obama-Biden campaign has already made a decision to move forward with the BarackObama.com domain. Campaign signs, stickers and buttons are already in circulation with BarackObama.com underneath or above the “Obama Biden”. One would think, however, that it can’t hurt to have the more obvious domain name for the 2008 Democratic candidates and use both in an effective manner.
If anything can be learned from this history of domain names and politics, Obama’s staff might consider taking a page out of Rove’s manual and act quickly on acquiring the domain name anyway. Acquiring the domain name might prove to be fairly easy for the campaign, as Dean claims in the CNN piece to be an “enthusiastic supporter” of the campaign.
Dean has a decision to make in the coming days and he might wish to study the law books and this history in making his choice. Since he appears to be a California resident, he may want to consult with an attorney on any possible issues that his owning ObamaBiden.com might have with regard to the Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act. Whatever Dean decides to do with the domain, history will repeat itself. Dean might best choose to learn from that history, ignoring thoughts of selling the domain name and instead follow in the footsteps of domain pioneer Scott Day and donate the name to the Obama-Biden campaign.
*Obama uses ObamaMobile.mobi for his mobile campaign. . . Back down .mobi lovers. It was a joke