May 30, 1999


A 'Bush' Web Site, Woven From Mischief

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    Every major Presidential hopeful has an Internet site that voters, journalists and the just-plain-curious can visit for biographical information, campaign schedules, speech texts and the like. Some have several sites. It's the way the political game is played on the cusp of the new millennium.

    But there is mischief afoot on the Web.

    It costs only $70 and imagination enough to come up with an unclaimed Internet address to establish a Web site. More to the point, anybody can set one up as long as nobody else has laid claim to the particular combination of words and letters used for the address.

    Thus does not necessarily have to be the official Web address of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.

    And it isn't.

    The real George W. Bush site is

    So what is

    A click of the mouse reveals what appears to be an official Bush campaign site, one patriotically tinged in red, white and blue and filled with thoughtful thoughts from a man running "a campaign with compassion."

    But on closer inspection, it turns out that is a comedic, caustic, cajoling anti-Bush site, the creation of one Zack Exley of Somerville, Mass. An "Amnesty 2000" proposal posted on the site turns out not to be an imaginative new approach to law and order but "a bold new policy initiative to free all 'grown-ups' from prison." The "life experiences" that shaped the Governor and merit his election are said to include "his rambunctious youth in which he doesn't deny there was use of cocaine and other drugs."

    Enough, says the real George W. Bush, who has never proposed freedom for all jailed grown-ups and who insists that he did nothing while growing up that would disqualify him from being President.

    "We're aware of the site," he said the other day when asked about and Mr. Exley. "This guy is just a garbage man."

    Mr. Exley responds that all is fair in politics, especially freedom of speech, and adds: 'Click HERE for an earlier Bush 'garbage' initiative.'

    What comes up is a sweeping accusation of shady financial dealings by the Bush family.

    Lawyers for the Bush campaign have filed a complaint about the site with the Federal Election Commission and have sent a letter to Mr. Exley with this warning:

    "In your wholesale misappropriation of the Web site, you violate a host of copyright and trademark laws."

    A campaign spokesman, David Beckwith, said the letter had resulted in some artistic changes in the Exley site and some "toning down" of its material.

    "We think we scared him off a bit," Mr. Beckwith said. "But it's still a very objectionable site."

    Reborn Campaigner Takes On Attack Ads

    The special election called in Oregon in 1996 when harassment and ethics charges forced Senator Bob Packwood to resign was one of the harshest ever seen on the West Coast. For weeks on end, the two candidates seeking to succeed the veteran Republican -- Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Gordon Smith, a Republican -- went at it with television attack advertisements, accusing each other, usually through the voice of an announcer rather than in person, of dishonesty, ineptitude and whatever else struck them as politically useful at the moment.

    They ended up, a few of weeks before Election Day, in a dead heat, according to the polls. They also ended up, those same polls found, in deep trouble with voters, with two of every three saying the campaign had been conducted in the gutter for so long that serious issues never got discussed.

    Mr. Wyden had second thoughts. He pulled his negative advertisements, asked all special interest groups supporting him to pull theirs, then told voters in a new commercial: "Unfortunately, when my opponent began running his negative ads, I responded. It spiraled out of control. Like many of you, I'm sick of it."

    Mr. Smith grumbled that Mr. Wyden was being politically cynical, that the damage had been done already and that in any event Mr. Wyden could not stop his supporters from continuing to run negative advertisements. But by then Mr. Wyden had grabbed an edge in the race.

    He hung on to it to win, and two years later, having completed the Packwood term, went on to win a full six-year term.

    Now, Mr. Wyden says it is time for Congress to pass legislation that will encourage more candidates to forswear negative television advertisements. He proposes a significant amendment to the law that permits every Congressional hopeful to buy advertising time at a station's lowest rate, a law originally meant to encourage campaign discourse.

    Mr. Wyden wants the law rewritten to require that every time a candidate's opponent is mentioned in an advertisement, the words must be spoken by the candidate.

    "If you want to take advantage of this subsidy and you feel the need to talk about your opponent instead of your own beliefs, have the courage to say it yourself," Mr. Wyden said as he dropped his bill into the hopper the other day. "Take accountability for your campaign, or you can't take advantage of the discounted rates. No more hiding behind grainy photographs and blood-curdling music."

    Will the proposal go anywhere, given that old political saw that "candidates go negative because negative campaigning works"?

    "It's certainly worth exploring," said Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman.

    Voter Registration at the Last Minute

    Only six states permit voters to register on Election Day: Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The remaining 44 prohibit such same-day participation, mainly out of fear of fraud or, in some cases, because political leaders favor low turnout, figuring it makes races easier to control and predict.

    Some election experts calculate that Election Day registration increases voter participation, on average, by almost 10 percent, a significant jump given that turnout in the country as a whole has slipped close to a record low. In Minnesota, election officials say that 16 percent of the votes that gave Jesse Ventura his surprise victory in the 1998 governor's race came from people who registered for the first time on Election Day.

    That figure made an impression on two California state legislators, Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg of Sherman Oaks and Senator Kevin Murray of Los Angeles, both Democrats. So now they are pushing legislation that would permit Election Day registration in California, where voter turnout fell to 41 percent last November, compared with 64 percent in Minnesota and Maine, 62 percent in Wyoming, 60 percent in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, and 59 percent in Idaho.

    The bills have drawn the support of California labor leaders and several major civic organizations, like People for the American Way, but they have had mixed legislative success. Senator Murray's proposal went down to defeat on Thursday in the Appropriations Committee vote, but in the Assembly, Mr. Hertzberg's was approved and forwarded to the floor for later consideration.

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