More Name’s-the-Same Political Dirt: Larsen Grabs Patchell’s Name for Website to Link to his own Campaign, Donation Site

April 29, 2018
By

NEWS ANALYSIS

From nose-biting at a polling place to creating a political club with virtually the same name as a longstanding and well-known Republican group so as to confuse voters, never let it be said that Cecil County politics is clean and above-board. Now we can add to the dirtpile the cyberspace hijacking of one candidate’s full name by his opponent, in order to divert voters to his own website and solicit donations.

Ed Larsen, a janitorial services business owner from Conowingo, filed to run in the Republican primary for County Council in District 4 against incumbent George Patchell. Patchell, who is the popular head of the Cecil County YMCA and well known as a leader in youth activities, was first elected to the County Council four years ago and has filed for re-election in the June Republican Primary. (There is no Democratic candidate, so the winner of the GOP primary will be unopposed on the November general election ballot.)

Larsen, apparently not content to make a straightforward appeal to voters with his own website, “Larsen4Cecil.com,” has registered at least four website domain names that are plays upon George Patchell’s name, according to records on file with the ICANN/ WHOIS database that oversees Internet domain name registrations.

Among the website domain names that Larsen registered are: “PatchellforCecilCounty.com,” “Patchell4CecilCounty.com,” and “PatchellforCouncil.com.” The registrations are listed in Larsen’s name and give the address and phone numbers that match information he provided to the state Board of Elections when he filed his own candidacy papers. Larsen was apparently too cheap, or unaware, to pay about $10 extra to a “proxy” registration entity that would have shielded the name of the actual person registering those domain names.

As of mid-day Sunday, those three website addresses were “parked” and not linked to an active website. But yet another web domain purchased by Larsen was very active, and pushing visitors to his own web address.

Larsen registered the website name “GeorgePatchell.com” on 3/19/2018, according to the WHOIS database. Sometime within the past week, that website address was activated but with an immediate re-direct to his own “Larsen4Cecil.com” web page, which includes a prominent button urging visitors to donate to his campaign. So people looking to visit George Patchell’s campaign are instead immediately re-directed to Larsen’s campaign.

John Colenda, treasurer for Patchell’s campaign, said that “GeorgePatchell.com” was the website address of the campaign four years ago and was included on many of his campaign signs and brochures. Apparently, the registration of the Patchell campaign’s website name lapsed and was not immediately renewed, thus making it available for Larsen to grab a few weeks ago.

While it is not unheard of in politics for someone to register a bunch of web names so as to prevent a rival from getting the most likely and easy to remember addresses, it is quite unusual for a candidate to actively establish a website in the full name of a rival and use it to re-direct voters to his own website.

For example, several years ago former Del. Michael Smigiel registered a web domain, “SossiforSenate,” so as to preclude former Del. Richard Sossi from using that address for his campaign for state Senate. But even Smigiel did not actually establish a website that used Sossi’s name or sought to push voters to another candidate. Smigiel was roundly criticized in local political circles for a “dirty trick” when the registration was exposed.

There are federal “cybersquatting” laws and regulations that might apply in this case, especially since the active website uses Patchell’s full name, but we’re not lawyers qualified to interpret them here. However, there are state election laws and campaign finance rules that might come into play in Larsen’s case.

Larsen was required by state law to file a campaign finance report earlier this month, covering campaign donations and expenditures from the time he filed as a candidate, on 2/27/2018, and 4/10/2018. Larsen’s campaign committee, “Citizens for Larsen,” reported a bank balance of $250, with a $200 personal loan to his campaign and one contribution for $50 from Robert Willick, the state chair of the ultra-conservative group Campaign for Liberty and a loud voice in C4L’s political criticism of the county government and local elected officials. Larsen’s report listed NO expenditures of funds during that time period.

But in fact, the website registration database shows that Larsen made expenditures to purchase domain names for the four websites in late March—before the 4/10/2018 cut-off date to report campaign-related expenditures to the state. Even if he used personal funds instead of campaign funds—and the GoDaddy.com website he used to register his web addresses requires immediate payment via credit card before the registration is processed—the expenditures should have been reported on his campaign finance report. Personal spending should be reported as an “in kind” donation, with state rules requiring disclosure of the nature of services obtained via an “in kind” donation.

Larsen’s filings to the state Board of Elections also reveal that his campaign treasurer was, until recently, Vincent Sammons, a Rising Sun IT consultant who has been aligned with the C4L and three candidates associated with the group, including Larsen, who are seeking County Council seats this year. Sammons resigned as treasurer of Larsen’s campaign a few days before Larson registered the Patchell-related web domains.

Sammons, who is a candidate for the Cecil County Republican Central Committee in the June primary election, is also the creator of a name’s-the-same Republican group that has confused local voters while attacking, via a Facebook page, other Republicans and GOP elected officials. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2018/03/names-the-same-gop-politics-round-2-gop-club-vs-sammons-soiree/ ]

In an interview with Cecil Times, Patchell said he thought it was “inconceivable” that his opponent would stoop to such underhanded tactics. “Character and integrity mean a lot to me,” Patchell said, adding that he would not give his foe the satisfaction of getting an angry response from him. Instead, Patchell said he was “exploring my legal options” to address the usurpation of his name in cyberspace.

Among the options available, both to Patchell and his supporters, is to protest the registration of the GeorgePatchell.com web address to the registrar, GoDaddy.com. Website registrations are governed by both federal and private rules against impersonation and improper registration names. To protest the registration by Larsen, Patchell and his allies can contact GoDaddy.com via email at abuse@godaddy.com or via phone at 1-480-624-2505.

CECIL TIMES contacted Larsen for comment via both his home and business phone numbers, as listed on state elections records and the website domain registration data. We will update this report if he responds.

However, on his personal Facebook page, he took a toughing it out stance, writing, “No hijacking. Domain name was purchased a while ago.” He went on to accuse anyone who questioned his actions of “defamation of character.”

Larsen has sought to portray himself as a devout Christian in his campaign, including a biblical passage posted prominently on his campaign website homepage: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.—Proverbs 22:1”

Perhaps he should continue his biblical readings to Proverbs 26:24: “A hateful person disguises himself with his speech, and harbors deceit within.”

[UPDATE: As of Monday 4/30/2018 late afternoon, the Larsen-created website using George Patchell’s full name had been de-linked from his own campaign website, although the website domain registration for “GeorgePatchell.com” was still listed as owned by Larsen. Instead, visitors to the faux Patchell website were greeted with a grey-shaded page that just says “Home” and does not swiftly transfer visitors to Larsen’s campaign website. So less than 24 hours after Cecil Times exposed Larsen’s gambit, he has backed away from it in reality, although he and his allies are still all over social media defending his actions.]

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2 Responses to More Name’s-the-Same Political Dirt: Larsen Grabs Patchell’s Name for Website to Link to his own Campaign, Donation Site

  1. Mr Falcon on April 29, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    … Anyone who reads this report and defends the actions should have their own character reviewed. Vote for George, a true gentleman.

  2. Real Republican on May 2, 2018 at 2:15 am

    Vince Sammons on the Central Committee would be a return to the Smipkin Era. Mr. Negative. Please Vote Positive.

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