Updated: Rachel Burgin opponent cries foul over misleading website
A website promoting Rachel Burgin, a Brandon Republican running for re-election to the District 56 state House seat, has prompted calls of foul play from her primary opponent Marc Johnson. The site, votemarkjohnson.com, looks exactly the same as Burgin's site, voterachelburgin,com. Both were created by Wildfire Marketing Group. Campaign finance reports filed by Burgin, who earned a bachelor's degree in May from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, show she paid $1,225 to Wildfire in January.
Johnson's campaign asked Wildfire to take the site down Tuesday and turn over its ownership to Johnson, saying the site violates the Federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.
The 1999 law makes it illegal to register or use a domain name that is identical or confusingly similar to a "distinctive mark." Violators of the law may pay damages up to $100,000.
"Voters are being tricked. It’s deceitful and duplicitous behavior," Debra Royal, Johnson's campaign manager, said in a news release. See the entire release here.
Royal said Johnson is considering his options, one of which is to press formal charges. For now, she said, he has notified the Florida Division of Elections and is requesting that Deborah Cox Roush, chair of the Hillsborough County Republican Party and vice chair of the Florida Republican Party, publicly denounce the move.
Update: April Schiff, a political consultant working for Burgin, said she was unaware of the site. Ron Meyer, an election law attorney in Tallahassee, said the federal law referred to by the Johnson campaign applies largely to commercial ventures. “We’ve looked at this whole cybersquatting issue in terms of political races and have found there’s not a satisfactory way to remedy it," he said. "That doesn't make it right or a decent thing to do." Regardless, the site is now down.
Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer