Anti-Obama Site Shut Down

Posted October 22, 2003 at 6:33pm

Democrats in Illinois were livid Wednesday after discovering a Web site maintained by a Republican operative that targeted Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama (D) and compared him to Osama bin Laden.

The site, www.barackobama.com, mirrored the appearance of Obama’s actual campaign Web site and featured a photo of bin Laden, with Obama’s face plastered over the al Qaeda leader’s. The slogan accompanying the banner atop the Web page read “a dream to destroy America,” and the site contained other messages demeaning the campaign of the state Senator, who is black.

“The Senate race in Illinois is an important one. And frankly, that’s why we must make sure that candidates who are so liberal that they are downright anti-American don’t win this race,” stated a letter signed BarackObama.com on the main page. “That’s what this site is all about.”

Democrats traced ownership of the Web site to a company run by Nicholas Tyszka, a Republican operative who recently served as campaign manager to Illinois Senate candidate John Cox (R). Cox dropped out of the crowded race to succeed Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) earlier this month.

“All this Web site exposes is the depth to which the Republican Party will sink to attack a candidate,” said Illinois-based Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Stacey Zolt. “This is not an attack from some interest group or some group of citizens, this is an attack from a Republican operative, and the Republican Party should have to answer to this.”

Seven Democrats and six Republicans are vying to replace Fitzgerald, and Zolt said the other Democratic campaigns had called Obama and that the party was united in denouncing the attack.

“This is not right and we won’t stand for this,” she added.

Sen. Kit Bond’s (R-Mo.) communications director was fired earlier this month after it was discovered he was operating a Web site named after a plane that crashed in October 2000, killing then-Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D), who was running for Senate.

“It’s been just weeks since we saw similar activity coming out of Kit Bond’s office and the Republican Party needs to send a message to their political bulldogs that this type of activity will not be tolerated,” Zolt said.

But in an interview late Wednesday afternoon, Tyszka defended what he described as a “satirical” site, and said it was not meant to be hurtful or a personal attack.

Rather, he said, it was a vehicle that allowed the expression of free political speech.

“The goal isn’t to hurt anybody’s feelings, it is to expose his extreme perspectives,” he said.

Tyszka said the site was purely meant to highlight Obama’s stance against the war in Iraq. He said his company also owns the domain names for three Republican candidates in the Senate race, retired Air Force Gen. John Borling, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger. Tyszka said all four of the sites, which mirror the candidates’ actual campaign sites, had been pulled down temporarily Wednesday afternoon.

“All I was trying to do was point out a stance on an issue,” he said. “I certainly have no ill regard for Mr. Obama, either as a person or an individual. I do however, believe it is important for the voters of Illinois to know his position on a particular issue.”

To that end the site, Tyszka maintained, “draws attention to a Senator who has consistently been on record against the war.”

While at first, Tyszka said he viewed the site as “provocative” and “edgy,” late Wednesday he called back to say that perhaps the site “did step across the line a little bit.” The individual within his shop who he described as the original author of the site had been fired, he said.

Tyszka offered his apologies to anyone who was offended by the site, but he added: “The good news in all of this is that it’s drawn attention to where this candidate stands on the issues.”

Tyszka described his South Bend, Ind.-based company, T. Nicholas & Co., as a conservative public relations firm which has done Internet development work for clients such as Mark Geragos, the lawyer defending Scott Peterson.

Among the political clients listed on Tyszka’s Web site is freshman Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.). Tyszka worked as press secretary on Chocola’s failed 2000 campaign against then-Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) and he designed the Congressman’s current Web site.

“This Web site is highly inappropriate and we do not condone it in any way,” said Brooks Kochvar, Chocola’s chief of staff.

Before founding his firm, Tyszka served as an aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), acting as his assistant for coalitions.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party denounced the site and said state GOP Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka wanted it removed.

“While the chairwoman has not seen this site, she has been given a description of what’s in it and she’s calling on whoever is responsible for this reprehensible Web site, whether Republican or Democrat, to pull it off the Internet and issue an immediate apology to Barack Obama and his family,” said Jason Gerwig. “There is no room for this type of negative personal attack.”