News

Calif. man registers Web site domains in names of politicians he wants out of office

Jennifer K. Morita
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A Rocklin, Calif., man who claimed dozens of Web site domains in the names of local politicians says he won't budge until they're ousted from office.

Joseph Scharrer, owner of a research and development company, registered the domains through GoDaddy.com and is using elected officials' own names against them.

He targeted those who he believes opposed a new charter high school, including the Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce, City Council incumbents and Rocklin Unified School District trustees.

"I'm against anybody who's against charter schools," said Scharrer, who serves on the planning team for a proposed college-prep charter school, Western Sierra Collegiate Academy. "I'm hoping if I tear down the existing incumbents, useful people will be elected to office and make good decisions for the people they represent."

In August, the school district unanimously rejected a proposal by Rocklin Academy for a college-prep charter school, saying the petition failed to meet legal requirements.

The proposal called for an academy for students in seventh through 12th grades to be established on an existing high school campus. Supporters say they will appeal the district's decision.

One of Scharrer's sites is registered in the name of district trustee Greg Daley, who is seeking re-election.

It features a photo of a cooked turkey with Daley's superimposed head, along with a headline that reads "Greg Daley is Done!"

Other sites are less comical.

On rocklinchamber.net, Scharrer lambastes school trustee Steve Paul, calling him a liar and a thief. It includes a photo of Paul with what appears to be the former Soviet Union's flag in the background.

"To have something like this happen in our community is very disturbing," Paul said.

"Morally, it's wrong to take somebody's domain name and use it for your own personal purposes," Rocklin chamber board member Bill Halldin said. "It's very abusive."

The 700-member Rocklin chamber has taken no stand on the charter school, according to Halldin. He said the chamber hired an attorney to deal with the issue.

Chamber officials asked Scharrer to take down his rocklinchamber.net site, but he refused.

"It's just a group of alphanumerical characters," Scharrer said. "It's low-cost campaigning, and in Rocklin it's difficult and expensive to reach people. The Internet has made it less expensive to reach the voters."

Such political cybersquatting is common, according to public affairs consultant Jeff Flint. "It's frustrating to candidates and can be very frustrating to the voters, potentially, but the Internet is still a bit of the Wild West, and the rules are not clear."

Cyberpiracy laws protect registered trademarks from squatters but not necessarily individual people.

Scharrer said Mayor Brett Storey and other City Council members have spread negative publicity about the charter school to influence trustees and the public.

Storey, a former trustee, said he hasn't been involved in district issues since he left the school board.

"It's a free country, and people can do what they want," Storey said. "It doesn't bother me a bit."

"I suppose this is the new electronic campaigning," said Peter Hill, one of the targeted council members. "But I think it's silly."

Rocklin Academy Executive Director David Patterson could not be reached for comment.

Scharrer signed up for multiple sites under a name, such as georgemagnuson.com and georgemagnuson.net. Magnuson is a Rocklin city councilman. Scharrer said he doesn't know how much he has spent on the domains, but GoDaddy charges $9.99 a year for each site. He also requested automatic renewals.

"My intention is to keep them until these people are out of office," Scharrer said. "When they're properly disposed of, I'll no longer have use for the domain names."

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