This is about politics and slippery slopes and the webs we weave.
Trey Radel is the GOP candidate to succeed Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, in the U.S. House who thought it would be clever to snap up Internet domain names that his opponents might want to use. That can be done to block or just annoy, but as we know now Radel aimed to drop cyberspace bombs by setting up fake or rogue web sites critical of the candidates whose spaces he owned.
Web users seeking information about those candidates would find the material that Radel wanted them to see, and over time, with enough traffic, the faux sites could rival candidates' own, real ones.
Like the Radel campaign had said, it intended to use technology "in ways that this district has never seen before.''
The pushback from Radel's skulduggery came slowly yet surely. Still, nothing happened at a rare forum featuring all the key players — Radel, Chauncey Goss of Sanibel Island, Gary Aubuchon of Cape Coral and Paige Kreegel of Punta Gorda — and other hopefuls in North Naples on Monday night. Candidates were not permitted to question one another.
Yet, Radel was on the radio early Tuesday to announce he had an epiphany just "seeing the candidates'' at the forum that led him to decide to "donate'' the domain names to the people who more rightfully should have and control them.
He told a friendly interviewer/host — the guy who took his place on Fox News 92.5 FM when Radel quit to run for Washington — that the web plans made some people uncomfortable and had made their point. Radel said he is ready to move on and talk about what matters more.
Donate? Would that be the word for rounding up a pile of dog doo-doo for your foe to step in, then being found out and offering the pile as a gift to make nice?
With his public relations chief blocking access to Radel, we are left to quote what was issued:
"The Friends of Trey Radel Campaign has accomplished its goal of showing the other candidates records' and will now donate them to their respective campaigns.
"'We wanted to show their voting records of raising taxes and support for big government projects, like rail in Florida,' says Campaign Manager Matt Pusateri. '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.'
"'Many of our supporters feel that our opponents have a right to the domains we purchased,' adds Pusateri. 'Our responsibility is to listen to the people. We'll do the same when we represent the people of Southwest Florida in Washington. Donating these websites to the other campaigns reflects our ability and willingness to do just that.''
Pusateri preceded that with this: "As you know, we are running an aggressive campaign. It made some people uncomfortable. However, the truth has no agenda. It just is.''
He then declined to answer questions and noted that Radel himself had spoken on the radio — albeit saying the same things that were in the prepared statement.
Again, remember, Radel used to welcome all comers and engage in snappy patter for a living.
But once you take that wrong turn ...
The response from Goss, Aubuchon and Kreegel was what you might expect, though not what Radel had hoped.
Goss: "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."
Aubuchon: "While Trey Radel is doing the right thing by taking down these deceptive websites, he appears to be continuing his Washington-style smear campaign. Calling someone who has been a leader in balancing six budgets, cutting state spending by $3.9 billion, and passing 35 separate tax cuts a liberal shows that he is more concerned about misrepresenting my record than focusing on the facts. I believe voters are tired of these political stunts and will see through his deceptive campaign tactics."
Aubuchon's campaign manager goes on to say this domain name gambit may be larger than thought, with 23 or 28 names/titles involved. Aubuchon himself was targeted by four, such as aubuchonforcongress.com.
Then another part of the tangled web came up. "I do not know if it is legal to take a donation from an opposing campaign and I think his campaign is incorporated as a for-profit organization,'' the campaign manager says. "That also raises a flag since federal campaigns cannot accept donations from corporations.''
Kreegel, calling Radel's move "the appropriate thing to do at this time," adds: "Counsel has informed us that we cannot accept any donation from Friends of Trey Radel as this was set up as a for-profit corporation — interesting — and that to accept any donation from them would be an Federal Election Commission violation.
"The correct way of doing this is for Trey's people to contact Go Daddy or whomever, formally abandon the domain sites, notify us when they are available, and then we can just purchase them from Go Daddy.''
Gary Lee, GOP chair for Lee County, is not impressed. "Our GOP board believes a public apology is due his candidate colleagues for a premeditated breach of campaign ethics.''
Shari Monetta, a Radel volunteer in Collier, says all's well that ends well. "I thought it was a brilliant idea to get the voting records out into the voters' eyes ... It's a whole new world now. Obama won the 2008 election with every tool available; we were blindsided; we cannot let that happen again ... Let the voters decide who had the courage to get the information out to them.''
See how blind partisanship can be?
Naples City Councilman Gary Price, who once wondered aloud, briefly, about running for Congress, has the last word. After donating to Radel's campaign and even being asked by Radel to help, Price says he was shocked to see his name on Radel's web domains list. "I hope that you did not use any of my contribution to do that,'' Price says he told Radel.
Price says he was only half kidding, as he was when he remarked, "I hope I don't have to run to get my sites back.''