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Candidate seeks to remove website
In an election that is already shaping up to be one of the ugliest and most litigious in recent years, another aspect of the 31st District State Senate race may be headed for court.
Challenger Matt Richardson, R-Sumner, and his attorney on Friday sent out a cease and desist letter to the owners of a website that was created last month and appears to be a campaign site for the candidate.
Though the domain name includes his name, visitors to the site do not see pro-Richardson campaign literature. Instead, they view a litany of rumors and documents and a banner urging Richardson to resign from his seat on the Sumner City Council.
“The things on the website are illegally obtained documents, altered documents, falsified documents and out-of-context documents,” Richardson said Friday.
Richardson also sent a copy of the letter to the campaign of his opponent, Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. Richardson and his lawyer believe the longtime senator is involved.
“We’ve known about it for a month and we let it go to see how many state and federal violations she and her campaign would break. We’ve seen enough now and believe its time for the authorities to do what they’re paid by the taxpayers to do, and that’s to enforce the law,” Richardson said in an e-mail.
Though the website is registered anonymously, local political activist Chris Clifford of Renton has claimed responsibility. “The domain is owned by me,” Clifford said Monday. “I am responsible for the site.”
Clifford also denied that the site was affiliated with the Roach campaign.
“Not at all,” he said emphatically, adding that while he likes and supports Roach, he is “absolutely not” affiliated with her campaign.
“I control the website,” eh said. “I put in what I choose.”
Clifford is a teacher in Orting and said his family owned land around Lake Tapps, so he is following the race in his “old home town.” Clifford said he believes the city and region deserve better representation.
As of Monday, the site’s opening page contains mention of the letter and a link to a copy under the heading “a threat from Matt.”
The headine replaced a similar link titled “a statement from Matt” which contained a first-person letter purportedly written by Richardson and containing what appeared to be a series of admissions about incidents from the candidate’s past.
The letter, as well as photos of Richardson’s family, have since been removed from the site.
Clifford, who in the past has worked for Roach, said Richardson’s letter is “worth about the paper it’s printed on” and invited a lawsuit.
“I want Matt to sue me,” he said. “There is nothing on that website that is false.”
Richardson’s Attorney, Jim Frush of Cable, Lagenbach, Kinerk and Bauer in Seattle, called the site “the worst type of swift boat politics possible” and said it was clearly in violation of several statues, including two sections of United states federal law designed to prevent “cyberpiracy/cybersquatting.”
Frush’s letter on Richardson’s behalf cites U.S. Federal code, Title 15, sections 8131 and 1125.
Section 8131 prohibits people from registering “a domain name that consists of the name of another living person, or a name substantially and confusingly similar thereto, without that person’s consent...”
Section 1125 includes as a purpose of the bill to “protect the public from registration of domain names that include the personal names of government officials, official candidates, and potential official candidates for Federal, State, or local political office in the United States, and the use of such domain names in a manner that disrupts the electoral process or the public’s ability to access accurate and reliable information regarding such individuals...”
According to Frush, the website violates both statues.
Richardson also said the site violates the precedent from Roach v. Richardson, the case over Richardson’s voters pamphlet statement brought earlier this election season by Roach. In that decision, the judge struck down three words in Richardson’s statement, forcing him to be very specific about sanctions leveled in January against Roach by the Republican caucus, saying that as a candidate, he should be held to a higher standard.
“You chose the domain name, posted Mr. Richardson’s picture, and created content purporting to be written by Mr. Richardson for the express purpose of confusing the public with misinformation,” the letter states.
Clifford said one of the sections cited in the letter, 8131, also includes a sentence that the domain may not be registered in someone else’s name for the purpose of selling it for profit, something he said he has no intention of doing.
Roach also denied that her campaign had any affiliation with the site.
“No, we certainly don’t,” she said Monday. “But I’m glad it’s there.”
Roach said she had visited the site twice and appreciated that someone is making the information available.
“People have a right to know who has designs on representing them,” she said.
Richardson said he and his attorney are currently check on the IP address, unique sequences of numbers given to computers to allow others on a network to communicate, but “It appears as if there’s a connection to Pam Roach.”
“We are prepared to bring lawsuits on several fronts but wanted to serve Pam and her campaign notice in the hope we can start talking about the issues the people of our district care about,” he said.
Clifford said the site was designed to show a “pattern of conduct” on behalf of Richardson and that it also falls under the “parody” protection because no one could “reasonably” think that Richardson said the things he is purported to have said.
“Obviously Matt doesn’t like the joke,” Clifford said.
Richardson said though the law provides for civil damages in these matters, his primary concern was simply having the site taken down so the campaign can continue.
“I want the law to be observed and to get this campaign back to talking about issues,” he said.
As of press time, the website was still accessible.