Players: Jack Abramoff, former GOP lobbyist at the center of a scandal that sent him to prison; The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the committee working to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives.
The Opening Serve: In 2006, the year Abramoff went to prison, the DCCC purchased JackAbramoff.com. When Abramoff began his new, much snarked upon public image campaign, complete with a book and a blog touting his ideas for reforming corruption in Washington, the DCCC balked, and updated the site with the headline "We Didn't Forget, Jack."
The Return Volley: The DCCC got a voicemail in late 2011, regarding, "a website that's registered to the DCCC that's actually in my name and I wanted to discuss with you guys whether I could wind up amicably figuring it out with you and getting it back. So I don't know if you're the right person or not but in any event if you could call me back I'd appreciate it. my name is Jack Abramoff." The DCCC posted this voicemail to JackAbramoff.com. "Jack Abramoff can try to rehab his image, but glowing press stories and being back on the D.C. cocktail circuit don't change the fact that Abramoff is a convicted felon who went to jail for being the heart of Republicans' 'Culture of Corruption,'" Jennifer Crider, a DCCC spokeswoman told Politico. "We didn't forget, Jack and anyone who visits jackabramoff.com won't either." Now, Abramoff has filed a complaint with the National Arbitration Forum. Politico reports the DCCC must reply by June 27, and then a panel will review the dispute.
What they say they're fighting about: Both parties agree on the power of Abramoff's name -- "The name Jack Abramoff is synonymous with Washington scandal" is how his own publisher puts it -- but they disagree on whether he can repurpose it. Abramoff wants to launch a new career as a reformer, putting his expertise in, uh, corruption to good use. The DCCC wants to use every last drop of public awareness about the GOP lobbyist's crimes.
What they're really fighting about: Decorum in this brave, frivolous new world of political domain name wars. Jack Abramoff is by no means the biggest name to fall victim to one of these domain name pranks, but because he seems to be making the most noise about it, he could set the precedent in these kinds of disputes. Political watchers have noted that this season saw a huge uptick in campaigns and outside groups making big grabs for dozens of domain names, either to squat on territory that their opponents could otherwise use, or to launch attacks on opponents. Reporting on the phenomenon, The Washington Post noted that after Rick Perry entered the race, the Obama campaign spent almost $4,000 on domains at GoDaddy.com. (Rick Perry remains the most blithely unconcerned about all this. RickPerry.com is still unused and as his spokesman told the Post, "We're not running for student body council here.") By bringing this dispute to arbitration, Abramoff is setting an example for the many political figures to come who will be too slow to register a domain in their name before the other guy got to it.
Who's winning? Abramoff. He went to prison in 2006 and he's no longer exactly a hot political item, making the DCCC's mocking insistence on keeping it seem a little petty. This is not a guy who is known for his delicate ways in the land of partisan politics, but his initial voicemail is kind of pathetically polite, whereas posting it on the web was ... not. These opposition sites seem to be good for short-lived one-off jokes. The Democratic research firm American Bridge 21st Century had the most memorably funny one when they bought NewtGingrich.com and had it redirect to a series of websites evoking his scandals. (The Tiffany's home page for instance and our own story comparing his campaign to a book tour.) They still own it, but then, Gingrich hasn't publicly feuded with them over it. DCCC certainly had its fun. How clever to buy that domain! But is the traffic they'll get revisiting the political battles from last decade really worth looking as petty as Abramoff himself?