A cyber-squatting congressional candidate who controls nearly two-dozen Internet domain names of Republican rivals is under increasing pressure to release them, or face complaints with the Federal Election Commission.
Sunshine State News, which reported earlier this month that "Friends of Trey Radel" had purchased six website addresses of fellow candidate Chauncey Goss, on Monday obtained an expanded list of domain names owned by Radel's campaign.
The roster includes nine additional Web addresses for Goss, as well as multiple domain names for candidates Gary Aubuchon, Paige Kreegel and Brian Owens.
The Radel camp also landed an Internet address for Gary Price, a Naples city councilman who considered a congressional bid, but decided against it.
With more than a half-dozen Republicans jockeying to succeed Rep. Connie Mack, who is running for U.S. Senate, the CD 19 primary is hotly contested. Whoever emerges on top will likely win the general election as the district is roughly 70 percent Republican.
The purchase of rival candidates' names by the Friends of Trey Radel has raised the temperature of the GOP race.
"Obviously, there's still a lot of questions to be answered and we don't want to speculate on their intent until the full details emerge," said Josh Cooper, spokesman for the Aubuchon campaign.
But, Cooper said, "Creating fake websites to push misinformation is a dirty-trick smear tactic that doesn't belong anywhere near a Republican campaign for Congress."
Kreegel said, "Trey should come clean on his intentions for the websites he purchased. What other reason could a candidate have for such tactics if not to use the sites to attack his opponents?
"His campaign said they'd make use of technology in a way never before seen. Reserving the domain names of your opponents so that you can attack them or deny them the ability to get their message out must have been what they had in mind.
"I call on Trey Radel to rise above this sort of gutter tactic," Kreegel concluded.
Goss seconded that appeal, and said he's exploring legal action.
"If the Radel campaign doesn't intend to cause mischief, then give the names back. If they do intend to cause mischief, they're in violation of the law," Goss said.
Noting that there is no FEC accounting of the site purchases by the "Friends" in Radel's financial reports, Goss said a legal challenge could be mounted.
"My primary concern -- aside from someone buying my personal domain name -- is that Mr. Radel has supposedly purchased dozens of these domain names, yet I saw no accounting for that on his FEC report. He keeps saying he started his campaign in January, but these attached documents show that not to be the case."
Goss added, "We're looking at our [legal] options."
Brian Owens, who thought he had protected his name by purchasing "BryanOwensforCongress.org," was surprised to learn that Radel's crew had bought "BrianOwensforCongress.com."
"It's despicable," said Owens' campaign manager, Emily Jeanne Thoemke.
Owens spokesman Rockie Pennington went further.
"For someone to steal your name makes you feel violated. It's like something the Russian mob would do."
Pennington was especially peeved that several of the domain names were purchased nearly a year ago.
"At the time those names were taken, these people weren't even candidates. Connie Mack was still in the race. No one would have run against him," Pennington said.
Radel could not be reached, and spokesman Matt Pusateri declined to address questions about the Web purchases.
"Everything we have done is by the book," Pusateri said in an emailed statement.
"Our campaign is focused on jobs and the economy. On top of that, we are facing a $15 trillion debt and a Barack Obama administration that wants to destroy this country. Meantime, the candidates in our race are asking about domain names.
"Clearly, this is why we are ahead in fundraising, building a massive donor base and grassroots support. It's time we start talking about the issues," Pusateri said.
But Radel's rivals aren't about to let go.
They note, for example, that since SSN's first story appeared, ownership of the rival domain names was switched from the Friends of Trey Radel to "proxy."
"That makes Domain-gate like Watergate. There was the initial incident, then there was the botched attempt at a cover-up," said a local tea party activist who declined to be identified.
The Friends of Trey Radel are registered as a for-profit corporation.
By using rivals' domain names, an opponent can redirect Internet traffic to his own sites.
Price, who said he encouraged Radel's congressional run, said he was unaware his friend had bought the domain names "GaryPriceforCongress.com," "GaryPriceforCongress.net" and "GaryPriceforCongress.org."
"I'm not personally offended," said Price, noting that "lots has changed [about campaigning] since I first ran for City Council two terms ago."
"I'm more interested in a candidate's message," he said.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.