From Wired News:
3:00 a.m. 13.Dec.1999 PST
Whether they know it or not, presidential contenders competing against Republican frontrunner George W. Bush have a friend in Zack Exley.
That's because the 30-year-old webmaster and mastermind behind parody site GWBush.com is willing to do just about anything to disparage the name and reputation of the Texas governor.
"He's just the shining symbol of hypocrisy," Exley said. "He's a candidate for sale. His stances on just about all the issues are determined by his campaign contributors. He'll be the best president that $70 million can buy."
As if the GWBush site -- replete with doctored images of Bush snorting cocaine and anti-Bush sentiments -- wasn't bad enough, Exley has begun a campaign to produce a slew of anti-Bush commercials for radio, television, and the Web.
"Ideally, money should be taken out of politics," Exley writes on the site. "But until then, let's fight fire with fire. Let's create and fund our own TV and radio ads to tell the truth about Bush."
Forget about paying high-priced staffers to craft counter-attacks and elaborate smear campaigns. When left to its own devices, the Internet has the potential to be a powerful and cost-efficient campaign weapon.
"I've always been interested in politics, but the Web makes it possible for regular people to get involved and to do stuff like this," said Exley. I think this is going to be a really common way to fund political projects on the Net in the future."
Exley's goal is to raise enough money to produce three radio or TV ads, mocking Bush based on scripts he has posted on his site. One such ad portrays the Texas politician as a whiny pushover, struggling to memorize anti-drug slogans fed to him by campaign advisers engaged in a "good-cop/bad cop" routine.
Another ad criticizes Bush's easy acceptance to Yale despite inferior grades, and a third accuses Bush of being a draft dodger during the Vietnam War.
To pay for the ads, Exley is asking site visitors for contributions, via check or credit card. But, he says, he won't spend the money unless he's sure he has enough to complete production of the ads.
"I'm not actually collecting the money as the pledges come in," he said. "Once I get enough money to produce the ads, or run them on TV, then I'm going to run all the (credit) cards.... It makes it a lot more sensible for people to contribute if they know that I'm only going to spend the money for the commercials."
So far, the campaign seems be working, Exley said. He has raised over $4,000 in just two weeks, and numerous volunteers -- from amateurs who own expensive recording equipment to employees of a local television station -- have offered their services to help produce the commercial for free.
The success of Exley's site comes as little surprise to some political insiders, especially given Bush's initial clumsiness in dealing with the online world.
"Zack Exley is a perfect example of someone who gets the Net -- not only in terms of politics, but also in terms of e-commerce," said Phil Nash, CEO of Campaign Advantage, a Democratic Internet campaign strategy firm.
"Governor Bush early on was using volunteers on his Web site and he didn't really understand the Net," Nash said. "Now he's doing a better job. But it shows that somebody doing an effective parody site can have a big effect on a campaign. Candidates for the rest of the 2000 cycle will have to deal with these parody sites."
As the ad money continues to trickle in at an average of $25 a pop, Exley is busy shaping and refining the site, which receives graphic art and editorial contributions from many of the site's 10,000 daily visitors from around the world.
"That's the best part of this -- all these people who are helping out and volunteering. I didn't do any of the graphics on the site, other people have sent it all in," Exley said. "We're doing it by volunteering. We're just regular people and the Web makes it possible for people to collaborate."
Back in May, Bush asked the Federal Election Commission to crack down on the GWBush.com site, claiming that it represented a "political committee" with an agenda to politically ruin the Republican candidate.
When asked about the claim at a May press conference, Bush suggested that "there ought to be limits to freedom," a comment that has plagued him among Internet advocates and briefly added about 50,000 new daily visitors to the parody site, Exley said.
Exley, a freelance computer programmer, said he owes everything to Bush, without whom the site would be just another one of the Web's ubiquitous parody Web sites, such as Bushfiles.com, Bushsuckz.com, and BushWatch.
"My site has gotten a lot of attention because of Bush trying to shut it down," he said.
According to an FEC spokeswoman, Bush's claim against the site is still under review.
Meanwhile, Exley is making plans for future ads. "If Bush doesn't become president, maybe this will be the end of this experiment," he said. On the other hand, "maybe this will turn into some sort permanent gig."
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