from The Washington Times, May 23, 1999, Sunday, Final Edition (Pg. C4, NATION)

Bush sees no humor in Web parody of presidential bid
Hugh Aynesworth

DALLAS - Texas Gov. George W. Bush - known for his easygoing sense of humor - lost that attribute this month as he took umbrage at an Internet Web site that lampoons his expected presidential bid.

Not only was Mr. Bush incensed, but he instructed his exploratory committee lawyers to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

In that complaint, sent May 3, attorney Benjamin L. Ginsberg of the Washington firm of Patton Boggs, charged that the operators of the Web site had failed "to include the proper independent disclaimers" on the site, thus violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. The complaint also said that the site had libeled Mr. Bush with false statements and its backers were out to ruin the Bush campaign.

"There's a lot of garbage in politics," said the governor, "and obviously this is a garbage man."

The Washington Times yesterday was unable to contact the Web site operator - Zack Exley of Somerville, Mass., who has been identified as a computer consultant - but Frank Guerrero, who said he was a spokesman for the designer of the site, Rtmark, told the Dallas Morning News on Friday that it was just a parody and that nobody connected with it was anti-Bush.

Mr. Guerrero said the same group plans to create a site to give Democratic candidate Al Gore the same treatment. "We're trying to be bipartisan," he said.

But back in Austin, Mr. Bush was not amused.

"There ought to be limits to freedom," he told Austin reporters yesterday.

The letter to the FEC asked that the owners post a disclaimer, naming who built the site and who was behind it financially. The complaint specifically said that if more than $ 250 was spent on the site - "because it expressly advocates the defeat of a federal candidate" - Mr. Exley was required to file expenditure reports, which he had not done.

"It is filled with libelous and untrue statements whose aim is to damage Governor Bush," the complaint said. "The headline of the site is 'Just Say No to Former Cocaine User for President.' This site's innuendoes and false statements attack the governor's positions on tough standards for convicted drug dealers."

Mr. Guerrero said the organization had spent about $70 to construct the site.

Karen Hughes, a Bush campaign spokesperson, said the main problem was that the site so closely resembles the official Bush site, www.georgewbush.com, that people could be easily confused, and the material posted could sway some from voting for the Texas governor.

Mr. Guerrero said it just pokes fun at Mr. Bush for what the governor calls his "youthful indiscretions" and compares them with his toughness toward criminals in his adult years.

The parody Web site (www.gwbush.com) opens with a picture of Mr. Bush and a large headline: Presidential Exploratory Committee. It mentions a mock Bush initiative called "Amnesty 2000," which suggests that Mr. Bush would pardon drug dealers and users if they had "grown up" - an obvious lampoon of Mr. Bush's admission about "youthful indiscretions," which he had refused to itemize, saying only that he has learned from the mistakes of his younger days.

Later it pokes fun at Mr. Bush's allusion to being a "compassionate Conservative."

"The gwbush.com campaign is about compassion," it begins. "G.W. Bush's politics derive from his own life experience. Although he made serious mistakes as a youth, the Bible says, 'Do unto others.' And G.W. Bush has indeed been forgiven again and again by others.

"First there was his rambunctious youth, in which he doesn't deny there was use of cocaine and other drugs. Then, as an unsuccessful Texas businessman, he was bailed out with millions of dollars from friends of his vice president father. As president, G.W. Bush wants to create an America in which everyone gets as much forgiveness, and as many chances to grow up, as he had."

An FEC spokesman said the complaint had been received but refused to comment on anything concerning it.

"We appreciate humor," said Mrs. Hughes in Austin. "We appreciate parody. George Bush is known for his sense of humor. But there's a difference between expressing opinion, poking fun and breaking the law."