Accused of being a "cyber-squatter," or worse, GOP congressional candidate Trey Radel on Wednesday began shutting down Web pages that carried the names of three rival candidates in District 19.
Radel's campaign also said it would surrender the rights to some 23 domain names of his opponents.
As first reported by Sunshine State News, personal domain names for Chauncey Goss, Paige Kreegel, Gary Aubuchon and Brian Owens were purchased early last year by the "Friends of Trey Radel," some 11 months before Radel announced his candidacy.
SSN's series of stories sparked a storm of controversy in the crowded GOP race to succeed Rep. Connie Mack, R-Naples, and threatened to blow up on Radel.
That the "Friends'" purchases of rival domain names did not appear anywhere on Radel's financial disclosure forms raised the specter of Federal Election Commission violations.
And as "Domain-gate" swung wide open, Goss told Sunshine State News he was considering filing a complaint with the FEC or pursuing legal action.
"[Radel] was feeling the heat," Owens' campaign manager said of the former radio talk-show host.
"We will be working on removing the content from the live websites today," Radel campaign manager Matt Pusateri informed Sunshine State News via email on Wednesday morning.
As for ownership of the domain names, Pusateri stated:
"We have started reaching out to the other campaigns to inform them about our offer to donate and coordinate appropriate domain transfers."
Kreegel, a state representative from Punta Gorda, said he was "pleased to hear Mr. Radel has taken my advice."
"When I was first informed of the identity thefts by Friends of Trey Radel Inc., I requested that Mr. Radel return the identities to their rightful owners."
Kreegel added, "We must rise above the tactics used by the left and address the problems facing our country and present solutions to those problems. Anything less is a disservice to the voters of CD 19."
Goss, a former deputy staff director for the House Budget Committee and son of former congressman and ex-CIA Director Porter Goss, said he was gratified that Radel's gambit was exposed sooner rather than later.
"What the Radel campaign did was wrong. It was an underhanded negative campaign tactic. The true sign of a person is what they do when they don't think anyone is looking.
"Now that Trey has been caught in the act, he is scurrying for cover and his donation of the domain name is nothing more than self-preservation," Goss said.
Radel's camp maintained that it accomplished its goal of showing the other candidates' records.
"We wanted to show their voting records of raising taxes and support for big-government projects, like rail in Florida," Pusateri said in a statement. "The sites were not positive or negative. They simply listed the facts. We hope Southwest Florida sees who the true fiscal conservative is in this race."
But, in the end, Pusateri said turning over the websites was the right thing to do.
Many of our supporters feel that our opponents have a right to the domains we purchased. Our responsibility is to listen to the people. Donating these websites to the other campaigns reflects our ability and willingness to do just that, he said.
Owens' campaign manager, Rockie Pennington, said the online tactics were "pretty much universally condemned."
Pennington cited a survey of the Southwest Florida congressional district showing that 77 percent of GOP primary voters are over age 55.
"Most felt like this was identity theft," Pennington said of Radel's purchase of personal domain names. "Younger voters are more laissez-faire about it, but older voters are more protective of their identity."
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.