An Associated Press investigation has uncovered who is at least partially responsible for the mysterious wave of recent website address purchases combining the names of dozens of U.S. politicians and the internet suffix ‘forsale.’
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) confirmed that it purchased the addresses for at least 27 incumbent senators facing re-election in the upcoming midterms and 2020 elections – a list that is said to include mostly Democrats but some prominent Republicans as well.
Interestingly, the DSCC attempted to mask its role as the buyer of the web addresses, which the AP estimates to have cost roughly $18 per address.
“It’s a routine campaign practice to purchase URLs to stop bad actors from getting them, and if we eventually decided to develop a URL into a website then there would be a clear disclosure of who was operating it,” said Lauren Passalacqua, communications director at the DSCC.
AP investigators and other experts remain unconvinced by this explanation however, due to both the secretive way in which the addresses were purchased and the fact that the DSCC has so far only confirmed their involvement in 27 of the over 280 political web addresses registered with the ‘forsale’ suffix. Some of those domains target Republicans, as well as other political entities such as the National Rifle Association.
Why It Matters
Though buying politically-related web addresses (either for offensive use, or to prevent rival campaigns from doing so) has been common practice in U.S. politics for decades, almost anything to do with political campaigning in the tech sphere will naturally be interpreted through the lens of the ongoing concerns over foreign influence and (specifically Russian) election meddling.
The AP report anticipates speculation resulting from the lack of identity confirmation of purchasers of domains beyond what the DSCC has admitted too, noting that it shows “how lines and motives in American politics can blur among foreign adversaries, U.S. dirty-tricksters, pranksters or speculators hoping eventually to sell the web addresses to campaigns or their rivals.”
Expect to see some on the political right latching onto the “anonymity” angle of the DSCC purchases, emphasizing the way in which the secretive methods employed by the DSCC undercuts the Democrats’ collective commitment to transparency in the so-called “Russia narrative.”
Expect to see some on the political left (especially within the Democratic party itself) aligning more with the official statement from the DSCC, seeing the domains as a preventative measure against bad actors.