Rand Paul Apparently Paid $100,000 for RandPaul.com

The presidential hopeful’s campaign recorded a large line-item purchase for a domain name just days before the candidate launched.

National Journal
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Shane Goldmacher
May 6, 2015, 8:48 a.m.

Days be­fore Paul launched his bid for pres­id­ent, his cam­paign shelled out more than $100,000 to a do­main-buy­ing firm to pur­chase a “do­main name.” Soon after, Rand­Paul.com, which had pre­vi­ously been a pro-Paul site run by his fans, emerged as the of­fi­cial portal for the cam­paign.

Fed­er­al cam­paign re­cords show Paul used his Sen­ate reelec­tion com­mit­tee to pay $100,980 to Es­crow.com, a do­main ser­vice, on March 27 for what is de­scribed as a “do­main name.” Pre­vi­ously, Paul’s polit­ic­al homepage was Rand­Paul2016.com, an ad­dress that now auto­mat­ic­ally re­dir­ects to his Rand­Paul.com page.

The pay­ment is an enorm­ous sum even in the murky world of polit­ic­al cy­ber­squat­ting. “Holy crap,” a top Re­pub­lic­an di­git­al strategist said when in­formed of the price. “That’s a ton.”

Patrick Ruffini, a vet­er­an GOP di­git­al strategist, said that he had nev­er heard of a cam­paign pay­ing so much for a URL, though he was not shocked. “It’s very much a seller’s mar­ket,” Ruffini said, adding that own­ing a can­did­ate’s “First­nameLast­name.com” was the gold stand­ard in the di­git­al world. “I would ar­gue that al­most noth­ing else mat­ters.”

Un­der its pri­or own­er­ship, Rand­Paul.com had been a bare-bones fan site, call­ing the Ken­tucky sen­at­or “the states­man we need in these dif­fi­cult times,” ac­cord­ing to a 2013 ver­sion of the site cap­tured by Archive.org. It was an in­de­pend­ent page as of late March 2015, when the The Des Moines Re­gister pub­lished a story about pres­id­en­tial-do­main squat­ters and in­cluded the site. In Oc­to­ber, The Hill re­por­ted Rand­Paul.com was avail­able on an In­ter­net auc­tion site for $125,000.

But by April 7, the day Paul an­nounced he was run­ning for pres­id­ent, it had be­come his of­fi­cial homepage.

A phone mes­sage left for Brandon Ab­bey, pres­id­ent of Es­crow.com, about the pur­chase was not re­turned. Paul’s cam­paign team also did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Vin­cent Har­ris, Paul’s chief di­git­al strategist, has been in fa­vor of pay­ing up for top do­mains in the past. “In my ex­per­i­ence, it’s much bet­ter just to buy the do­main names, even though you’re kind of giv­ing these people a leg up,” Har­ris told Politico in 2012, which re­por­ted that Har­ris had helped Jon Hunts­man buy Jon­Hunts­man.com in 2011. “It’s a quick­er, speedi­er pro­cess to get it all done.”

The price, in terms of bad pub­li­city, for not se­cur­ing a top-level do­main can be steep, as some of Paul’s 2016 rivals have learned the hard way.

At Ted­Cruz.com, Ted Cruz was taunted on the day of his an­nounce­ment with an un­wel­come mes­sage: “SUP­PORT PRES­ID­ENT OBAMA. IM­MIG­RA­TION RE­FORM NOW!” His of­fi­cial page is loc­ated at Ted­Cruz.org.

The own­er of Carly­Fi­or­ina.org was even more cre­at­ive: mock­ing Carly Fior­ina with 30,000 frown­ing-face emoticons—one each for all the lay­offs at Hew­lett-Pack­ard un­der her ten­ure. “You can’t buy every do­main name,” Fior­ina lamen­ted. “Maybe we should have, but we didn’t.” She already owned Carly­Fi­or­ina.com.

“Giv­en the scru­tiny for the last few an­nounce­ments, it seems like the cam­paigns them­selves are in a rough spot,” Ruffini said.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear who scored the big pay­day from Paul. Rand­Paul.com ap­pears to have been first re­gistered back in April 2006. In­ter­net re­gis­tra­tion re­cords show that it was re­gistered to Fab­ulous.com, an­oth­er do­main-re­gis­tra­tion site, which can keep the ac­tu­al own­ers of do­mains an­onym­ous.

Mat­thew T. Sander­son, who is gen­er­al coun­sel for the Paul cam­paign, has been a vo­cal crit­ic of cy­ber­squat­ting. He served as coun­sel to Sen. John Mc­Cain’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign in 2008 and, af­ter­ward, wrote a piece in Elec­tion Law Journ­al de­cry­ing the prac­tice.

“They do it for profit,” Sander­son wrote of cy­ber­squat­ters in 2009. “They do it for spite. They do it to broad­cast cri­ti­cisms. They do it out of egot­ism or to in­dulge their idea of fun.” Reached via phone, Sander­son re­ferred all ques­tions to the Paul press team.

The Paul fam­ily it­self is no stranger to do­main-name squabbles.

Ron Paul, the three-time pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate and Rand’s fath­er, nev­er con­trolled Ron­Paul.com and Ron­Paul.org, and he failed to se­cure them, even after bring­ing a 2013 com­plaint be­fore the World In­tel­lec­tu­al Prop­erty Or­gan­iz­a­tion, an agency of the United Na­tions that handles do­main-name dis­putes. The sites were op­er­ated by a group of Paul sup­port­ers. “Now that your cam­paigns are over and you no longer need us, you want to take it all away—and send us off to a U.N. tribunal?” they com­plained. WIPO ul­ti­mately ruled in their fa­vor and against the eld­er Paul.

Cy­ber­squat­ting is re­l­at­ively com­mon, with spec­u­lat­ors of­ten try­ing to strike it rich by buy­ing the URLs of po­ten­tial fu­ture pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates, the years they’ll run, and po­ten­tial run­ning mates. One not­able cy­ber­squat­ter, Mi­chael Deutsch, is a C-SPAN junkie who tries to trade do­mains for ac­cess to can­did­ates and their cam­paigns. Among his many prop­er­ties: Je­b2016.com.

Oth­er would-be 2016 can­did­ates have po­ten­tial do­main-squat­ting troubles loom­ing ahead. New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, for in­stance, doesn’t own ChrisChristie.com. (A Mil­wau­kee com­puter-pro­gram­mer of the same name does.) The own­ers of JebBush­for­Pres­id­ent.com? A gay couple in Ore­gon.


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