Could www.Vote.Republican Be a Porn Site Next Year?

With new domain names opening up on the Internet, the GOP wants the term “Republican” for itself. Problem is, someone else has it.

National Journal
Ben Terris
Add to Briefcase
Ben Terris
Aug. 26, 2013, 2 a.m.

The first stage of the In­ter­net gold rush is upon us. This means, of course, that spec­u­lat­ors are already quib­bling over prop­erty rights.

And the Re­pub­lic­an Party is right in the thick of it.

With­in the next year, the In­ter­net is set to ex­pand. In­stead of just end­ing web­site URLs with the 20 or so gen­er­ic do­mains (.com, .biz, .net, .org, etc.), or the about 200 coun­try code do­mains (.us, .uk, .de, .cc), people will have the op­tion of nearly 1,500 new end­ings (.bible, .tat­too, .WTF, .sucks, .porn). Last year, hun­dreds of people and busi­nesses (in­clud­ing Google, Amazon, Nike, and many oth­ers) ap­plied for these so-called top-level do­mains for vari­ous reas­ons. Some want to build out their brand; oth­ers want to keep com­pet­it­ors from get­ting their hands on them; and still oth­ers just want to make a profit by selling do­mains to third parties.

United TLD Holdco is a group in this last cat­egory. It has put in the $185,000 ap­plic­a­tion fee for 26 dif­fer­ent top-level do­mains, in­clud­ing .Ninja, .Act­or, .So­cial, .Demo­crat, and .Re­pub­lic­an. It’s only the last one of these that has the Re­pub­lic­an Party up in arms.

“It’s not ap­pro­pri­ate for them to run something that is called .Re­pub­lic­an,” says Chris Jankowski, the pres­id­ent of the Re­pub­lic­an State Lead­er­ship Com­mit­tee. “Part of the new In­ter­net is about mak­ing sure the people who have the in­terest in the brand, in this case polit­ic­al parties, not just crass com­mer­cial in­terest.”

For this reas­on, the RSLC and the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee have filed an ob­jec­tion with the In­ter­net Cor­por­a­tion for As­signed Names and Num­bers — the Cali­for­nia-based non­profit that is in a lot of ways in charge of the In­ter­net. Their claim is that the term “Re­pub­lic­an” is in­ex­tric­ably linked to their party, and that United TLD’s own­er­ship of it might im­ply a con­nec­tion to the Re­pub­lic­an Party that does not ex­ist.

If this sounds like a Re­pub­lic­an diss­ing the mer­its of cap­it­al­ism and the free mar­ket, that’s be­cause it might be. But Jankowski doesn’t see it that way.

“We cer­tainly are free-en­ter­prise and mar­ket-cap­it­al­ist, but we feel like we have the right to run our own polit­ic­al party,” he said. “We run it in a non­profit fash­ion, so I don’t think the mar­ket cap­it­al­ism should be in­volved with the ac­tu­al op­er­a­tion of the party.”

Dave Panos, a dir­ect­or at United TLD, says the chal­lenge is without mer­it.

“They need to prove that they are the sole rep­res­ent­at­ive of a well-defined com­munity,” he said. “In that defin­i­tion is where their ar­gu­ment breaks down. There isn’t even a well-defined group of Re­pub­lic­ans in this coun­try. Not to men­tion the world.”

Panos says the point of pur­chas­ing the do­main is to open it up for any­one to use (for a fee, of course). If he wanted to run for of­fice, for ex­ample, he could re­gister the do­main Dav­e­Panos.Re­pub­lic­an or Dav­e­Panos.Demo­crat. An en­ter­pris­ing act­iv­ist could re­gister Ob­struc­tion­ist.Re­pub­lic­an or Dont­Vote.Re­pub­lic­an. It’s just one more pos­sible prob­lem in the new In­ter­net land­scape to con­tend with (just ima­gine the pos­sib­il­it­ies for the do­main .Sucks for law­makers). In fact, it doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily have to be re­lated to Re­pub­lic­ans at all. If a por­no­graphy site felt like it, it could re­gister Bush.Re­pub­lic­an.

Panos be­lieves that part of the reas­on the Re­pub­lic­ans don’t want his site to have the name is be­cause it cre­ates com­pet­i­tion for the .GOP do­main, one that the Re­pub­lic­ans do have con­trol over.

“They eas­ily could have ap­plied for both; I’m kind of sur­prised that they didn’t,” he said.

There cer­tainly is a lot of po­ten­tial for these sites, says Josh Bourne, the cofounder of Fair Winds Part­ners, a do­main-name con­sult­ing firm.

“By the time a can­did­ate an­nounces their can­did­acy, es­pe­cially when the can­did­ate is older, the good and in­tu­it­ive names have already been taken,” he says. “But now, with new do­mains open­ing up, can­did­ates can be a part of something more in­tu­it­ive that looks new, sleek, and tech­no­lo­gic­ally for­ward.”

Re­pub­lic­ans do have plans for the .GOP do­main—plans that they hope can give them an ad­vant­age over Demo­crat­ic groups, none of whom re­gistered a do­main. But what ex­actly these plans are re­mains un­clear. Jankowski’s RSLC will be the of­fi­cial own­er of the site, but he says it will be work­ing very closely with oth­er Re­pub­lic­an groups.

With the do­main set to launch some­time in the first quarter of 2014, Jankowski says he hopes it can play a big role lead­ing up to the 2016 elec­tions. Can­did­ates can re­gister their own sites. This will not only mak­ing it easi­er to find them, it will also mean the buy­er will be donat­ing to the party by pay­ing for the do­main (Jankowski says he wants to charge $20.16 per do­main).

“You aren’t just buy­ing your own do­main and e-mail, but you are con­trib­ut­ing to grow­ing the party,” he said. “All money will go in­to help­ing fund can­did­ates down-bal­lot.”

What’s still un­clear is wheth­er the RSLC will have con­trol over who can re­gister for a do­main. The group says that the site will be open to any­one who iden­ti­fies as a Re­pub­lic­an, but it could not an­swer wheth­er it has a mech­an­ism in place to make sure this was the case. Plus, ac­cord­ing to their ap­plic­a­tion, the do­main will be open to any­one. That would mean that cy­ber­squat­ters could gobble do­mains be­fore can­did­ates could. Why, the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee could even get them. It could also mean that there could be por­no­graph­ic sites end­ing in .GOP.

The RSLC says it is work­ing on this prob­lem, that it hasn’t quite figured it all out yet. This is some cut­ting-edge stuff, after all, and Re­pub­lic­ans haven’t al­ways been the kings of tech­no­lo­gic­al ad­vance­ments.

“You have to tip your hats to Demo­crats at this point on the tech­no­logy side of things; they are clearly bet­ter than us,” Jankowski said. “But we are not just go­ing to ac­cept that. We are try­ing to strengthen our party op­er­a­tion in the di­git­al space. We be­lieve this is a part of that.”

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