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12|30|2008 01:37 am EDT

JudicialWatch.org Claims Obama Illegally Granted Change.gov Domain Name

by Adam Strong in Categories: Legal Issues

obamaGovernment watchdog JudicialWatch posted an article today declaring the domain name Change.gov, the location of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s newest website may have been illegally granted.  According to the site, Obama’s team initially requested and was denied use of the domain name Change.gov, but the domain was later granted after pressure from his staff. 

Judicial Watch points out:

The agency specifically forbids political or campaign information on any “.gov” website as well as any tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that can engage in lobbying or political campaigning. Obama’s change site proudly features the Obama-Biden Transition Project, a 501c(4) organization that actively engages in lobbying and political campaigning. The website also uses Obama’s favorite invented term of Office of the President-Elect, which is definitely not an official government office.

It seemed to us that Judicial Watch was making a mountain of a mole hill here, so we looked a little harder at what was presented.

The US General Services Administration (GSA) is the government body which manages and allocates the use of the .gov domain name.  It makes sense that campaigning should be forbidden on government allocated domains, but DNN searched the GSA site to find where it forbids this and was unable to find the specific rule.  In fact the rules we did found, leave the allocation open for interpretation and flexible.

According to the GSA website the following entities are permitted use of a .gov domain name :

  • At the federal level, U.S. governmental departments, agencies, programs, and commissions
  • Cross-agency collaborative organizations
  • Federally recognized Indian Tribes (for the -NSN.GOV domain)
  • State government entities and programs
  • Cities and townships represented by an elected body of officials
  • Counties and parishes represented by an elected body of officials
  • Some special exceptions and requests are permitted

It is likely that the Obama team was granted the waiver and use of this domain under the “special exceptions and requests” .  Page 6 of the documents on Judicial Watch (PDF) also point out that the Office of the President-elect is federally recognized and that the GSA is authorized to provide services for this “unique entity that is entitled to government support while retaining characteristics of a private organization.”

Granting the domain seems pretty cut and dry to us, but not illegal.  The use of the domain name moving forward may be one which raises some questions with government watch dog groups.  However, it was not clear to us where on the Change.gov website any campaigning or lobbying was being done.  If the domain is used inappropriately, clearly this should be fixed, but JudicialWatch really provided no concrete proof of any such claims.

The only interesting tidbit I found in all of this was the fact that the request to use Change.gov was made on October 20th, weeks before the election had been decided.  It appears that the campaign wanted to use the domain, and this may have been the reason for the original refusal. It appears that once he was elected, the domain name request was approved.

[Thanks to reader Tyger Gilbert of USAWebAdv.com for the tip.]

UPDATE :  A user on Digg points out that the letter requesting the domain  shows no sign of “demands” or “pressuring”, but merely states that they are requesting a waiver for the use.  He also points out that Judicial Watch is headed by Conservatives. No real surprise here.

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7 Comments

Chris Nielsen

December 30, 2008 @ 12:42 pm EDT

GREAT COVERAGE of this “issue” and I appreciate that you looked into some of the details and facts about it.

Even it it was illegal it won’t matter shortly, because when the president does it, it’s NOT illegal…!

P.S. Watch for Change.gov to be listed on SEDO in 4 or hopefully 8 years… :-)

Troy

December 30, 2008 @ 1:31 pm EDT

I hope that Chris’s comment above, about when the President does something it not being illegal, is just sarcasm. It probably is but unfortunately there are people in this country that probably think that.

jp

December 30, 2008 @ 5:56 pm EDT

I think pres Bush showed us how this stuff works. The whole thing seems moot. Whether Obama should, or should not have the domain gets decided by him now, since he is pres now, so he gets to make up all the rules. It would be nice if the whole checks & balances thing worked the way it used to though. I’d be very impressed with the Obama administration if the government started following their own rules again.

John Berryhill

December 30, 2008 @ 6:02 pm EDT

“The website also uses Obama’s favorite invented term of Office of the President-Elect, which is definitely not an official government office.”

It’s funny how some folks believe repetition will make things true.

The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 was amended to add a few additional things in 2000, but the fact that US law provides an office for the President-Elect has been true for more than four decades:

http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/gsa/ep/contentView.do?contentType=GSA_BASIC&contentId=24780

Sec. 3 (a) The Administrator of General Services, referred to hereafter in this Act as “the Administrator,” is authorized to provide, upon request, to each President-elect and each Vice President-elect, for use in connection with his preparations for the assumption of official duties as President or Vice President necessary services and facilities, including-

(1) Suitable office space appropriately equipped with furniture, furnishings, office machines and equipment, and office supplies as determined by the Administrator, after consultation with the President-elect, the Vice-President elect, or their designee provided for in subsection (e) of this section, at such place or places within the United States as the President-elect or Vice-President-elect shall designate;

(2) Payment of the compensation of members of office staffs designated by the President-elect or vice-President-elect at rates determined by them not to exceed the rate provided by the Classification Act of 1949, as amended, for grade GS-18: Provided, That any employee of any agency of any branch of the Government may be detailed to such staffs on a reimbursable or non reimbursable basis with the consent of the head of the agency; and while so detailed such employee shall be responsible only to the President or Vice-President-elect for the performance of his duties: Provided further, That any employee so detailed shall continue to receive the compensation provided pursuant to law for his regular employment, and shall retain the rights and privileges of such employment without interruption. Notwithstanding any other law, persons receiving compensation as members of office staffs under this subsection, other than those detailed from agencies, shall not be held or considered to be employees of the Federal Government except for purposes of the Civil Service Retirement Act, the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act, the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Act of 1954, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act of 1959;

(3) Payment of expenses for the procurement of services of experts or consultants or organizations thereof for the President-elect or Vice-President-elect, as authorized for the head of any department by section 15 of the Administrative Expenses Act of 1946, as amended (5 U.S.C. 55a), at rates not to exceed $100 per diem for individuals;

(4) Payment of travel expenses and subsistence allowances, including rental of Government or hired motor vehicles, found necessary by the President-elect or Vice-President-elect, as authorized for persons employed intermittently or for persons serving without compensation by section 5 of the Administrative Expenses Act of 1946, as amended (5 U.S.C. 73b-2), as may be appropriate;

(5) Communications services found necessary by the President-elect or Vice-President-elect;

(6) Payment of expenses for necessary printing and binding, notwithstanding the Act of January 12th, 1895, and the Act of March 1, 1919, as amended (44 U.S.C. 111);

(7) Reimbursement to the postal revenues in amounts equivalent to the postage that would otherwise be payable on mail matter referred to in subsection (d) of this section.

John Berryhill

December 30, 2008 @ 6:12 pm EDT

In case it doesn’t jump out, the GSA is specifically authorized in section (5) there to provide “Communications services found necessary by the President-elect”.

“Necessary” is an interesting term in law, and doesn’t always have the colloquial import of strict “need”, but I doubt anyone these days would not consider a domain name to be a normal incident to communication services.

Of course, the current VP thinks torture equipment is a “necessary communication service”, so perhaps it is in the eye of the beholder.

Adam Strong

December 30, 2008 @ 6:15 pm EDT

Thanks John. JudicialWatch even has that information in a shorter format on page 6 of the documents they posted. It IS in fact a recognized federal office.

Dwayne Rowland

January 5, 2009 @ 5:09 pm EDT

thanks obama is the best :D

____________________
Ligtv izle

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