If Jeb Bush runs for president, he’ll be starting behind the digital curve - about eight years behind, to be precise.
The former Florida governor, who hasn’t held elected office in almost a decade, missed the chance to purchase several domain names related to his name and presidential ambitions, giving their owners free reign to make political mischief on websites that potential Bush supporters might visit.
In 2008, a gay couple living in Austin, Texas, CJ Phillips and Charlie Rainwater, bought the rights to the domain name JebBushforPresident.com in response to perceived anti-gay sentiment in Texas at the time. They had hoped their site would encourage Bush supporters to participate in LGBTQA conversations.
“This was our original intent; you know, let’s educate people,” Phillips told ABC News. “Let’s try to encourage people to talk to each other about these sorts of things.”
Another site, JebBushforPresident.net, was created by a self-described “loyal Republican in the hope of saving the Republican Party from supporting Jeb Bush for president,” and features a plethora of anti-Bush sentiments.
Rick Katz, an attorney from Miami, bought Jebbush.us. But, luckily for Bush, Katz is eager to sell to the highest bidder. The former governor has yet to make the purchase and the site is still up for grabs.
Purchasing domain names is a key way for public figures to keep tabs on their image. Just ask former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who preemptively bought over 400 domain names related to his name, ranging from Mikebloomberg2013.nyc to the ludicrously comical Bloombergistooshort.nyc.
Jeb is the only potential Republican candidate without a personal website (other than Facebook). But his leadership PAC, Right to Rise, which was formally established at the beginning of this year, does maintain a website. Request for comment through Bush’s Right to Rise PAC was not returned.
Bush, the two-term Florida governor who left office in 2007, isn’t alone in the domain drama.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s dotcom domain is owned by a private citizen in Milwaukee. But it seems Christie’s PAC, Leadership Matters for America, is doing all it can to make sure the governor has some presence on the site: A Christie ad appears at the bottom of the screen, right under two photos of Christie’s young children.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s dotcom domain has also been obtained by a private citizen, apparently to pull support away from the senator. TedCruz.com has only one line of text: “Support President Obama. Immigration reform now!”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s PAC, Our American Revival, was parodied by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin with the website AmericanRevivalPAC.com, which redirects to a BuzzFeed article poking fun at his leadership PAC name choice.
Jeb Bush, 61, is working to modernize his digital presence, hiring controversial tweeter-young techie Ethan Czahor as his chief technology officer. And while he might be able to find an alternative site for Jeb Bush’s personal domain, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do anything about the Jeb Bush websites that have already been purchased.
“Gripe sites and parody sites are protected forms of free speech,” said Josh Bourne, president of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse.
“So unless the public figure has defensively registered key domain names before someone else snaps them up, there is often not much that can be done.”