washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Maryland > Elections

Van Hollen Is Caught Off Guard; Name Is Used by Foe's Web Sites

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01

The GOP candidate for Congress from Maryland's 8th District says it was an opportunity he couldn't let pass. But incumbent Rep. Chris Van Hollen said Charles R. Floyd's Web sites represent "a new low for politics in this area."

Repeating a tactic he used against his Republican primary opponent this year, Floyd bought three Internet domain names with Van Hollen's name and turned them into Web sites carrying unflattering comments about the freshman congressman's record.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen neglected to protect himself against "cybersquatting," and Charles R. Floyd exploited the opportunity.

One site, www.vanhollen2004.com, features a picture of a man in a chicken costume challenging Van Hollen (D) to a debate and outlines Floyd's campaign themes: that Van Hollen is weak on defense and a supporter of wasteful government programs.

A second site, www.vanhollen2004.org, shows "The Van Hollen 13-Point Pledge to the Voters," declaring that Van Hollen wants "the U.S. to be like France" and wants his "friends -- the liberal judges -- to push the social envelope for our society."

The third site, www.vanhollen2004.net, includes a picture of a bus destroyed in a suicide bombing in Israel and says Van Hollen is "more pro-terrorists than pro-Israel."

Van Hollen, who enjoys a large fundraising edge, called the sites "full of falsehoods." He predicted that they will backfire with voters in the heavily Democratic district, which includes half of Montgomery County and a small part of Prince George's County.

"I think people in this congressional district are going to be insulted at the level to which their campaign has stooped," Van Hollen said. "I have the benefit of representing a very educated district and this kind of garbage, people can see through it."

Floyd said Van Hollen should have seen it coming.

"I feel if the congressman doesn't have the foresight to buy up certain domain names with his name, does he deserve to be in Congress?" asked Floyd, a retired military officer and State Department employee. "It was up for grabs, so I bought it."

Many candidates have created Web sites that could be misconstrued as an opponent's since the Internet became a factor in campaigns in the late 1990s. The practice, called "cybersquatting," has created headaches for a number of politicians, including President Bush and former California governor Gray Davis (D).

Consultants have been advising candidates to buy every possible Web address that includes their names even before they begin their campaigns. Floyd, for example, says he bought up at least 50 domain names.

Some political professionals expressed surprise yesterday that Van Hollen would leave himself so exposed.

"It is a pretty big oversight," said Jeff Stanger, principal at NetCampaign, a Democratic Web consulting firm.

Van Hollen said he never thought his Republican opponent would resort to such tactics. "In this congressional district, campaigns have always been waged on a higher level," Van Hollen said.

But Floyd used a similar approach this year when his campaign set up the Web site robinficker.com to post disparaging things about anti-tax activist Robin Ficker, his opponent in the GOP primary.

Ficker filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to shut down the site because it was deceitful. The judge ruled against Ficker, saying free speech rights precluded candidates from having exclusive rights to their names.

"I just thought it was improper that someone could engage in identify theft," Ficker said yesterday.

The Ficker site made no mention of who was behind it, but Floyd has included a disclaimer on the Van Hollen Web sites stating that it was set up by the Republican's campaign.

Floyd said he established the Web sites because Van Hollen has declined his invitation to debate. Van Hollen said they had two debates and two more are scheduled. Floyd said those were candidates' forums and not real debates.

Van Hollen's campaign manager, Chuck Westover, said Floyd's Web sites are "sleaze" and "immature politics," but he concedes that they have taught the campaign a lesson.

"We've already bought up a few [domain names] for 2006, so we do not have to deal with this again," Westover said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company