Jose “Pepe” Cervantes cybersquats for politics. Specifically, he registers the website addresses of the first and last names of people planning to run for office and keeps them for his own political purposes. Last winter, Cervantes, a former member of the Democratic Central Committee and writer of the blog Blue San Diego, registered both ToniAtkins.com and HowardWayne.com after he heard they'd be running for new office.
“It was fair game,” Cerventes told CityBeat in an e-mail interview. “It was up to the candidates to be proactive and secure their own domains ahead of time.”
University of San Diego law professor David McGowan told CityBeat that the 1999 Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act would not forbid Cervantes from owning these names, since the law only prevents this kind of infringement by squatters looking to make a profit. McGowan said the company that manages domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, operates an arbitration court designed to resolve naming disputes. Though he's not totally expert on how that system works, McGowan said there'd be a “general preference for the most logical association” between a domain name and the owner of the domain.
Cervantes bought ToniAtkins.com soon after he heard that Toni Atkins, termed out of the San Diego City Council, wanted to run for state Assembly. He much preferred to see former City Council candidate Stephen Whitburn run for the seat, even leading a “Draft Whitburn” campaign on Facebook. He told CityBeat he was tired of the way politicians, barred by term limits to run again for their current jobs, run for seats in the state Legislature.
“I was originally planning on using it to play a flash animation showing Toni Atkins playing a game of musical chairs,” Cervantes said, “and asking readers if they wanted to send another musical-chairs politician to Sacramento.”
He registered HowardWayne.com because he thought he—Cervantes—would run for the District 6 City Council seat. He planned to point it to his blog (which is where it points as of this writing). But if he'd run for office, this acquisition could have put him on shaky ground with the city's ethics law that forbids campaign expenditures more than one year before the election. Because of this law, Howard Wayne, as a City Council candidate, could not have legally acquired his domain name for the campaign before June of this year (though Atkins, running for state office, could have acquired hers).
Ultimately, everything will work out. Whitburn supports Atkins, and after chatting with her on the phone, Cervantes has decided to hand control of the name over to her campaign. And he decided not to run for City Council after his son was born deaf (Cervantes and his wife are also both deaf) and he moved his family to the South Bay. He will soon give the domain to Wayne.
In the meantime, Cervantes would like to start buying the names of GOP candidates and point them to Bluesd.com, but he probably won't.
“I don't make much money,” he said. “I work as a social worker, and my wife is staying at home taking care of our baby son. My wife would kill me if she found out I was spending money on political stuff.”