September 10, 2007

Did Romney Team Set Up Phony Fred Site? (Update: Team Romney Responds)

People have wondered which candidates would fear a Fred Thompson candidacy the most. Tonight we may have an answer. The appearance of a snarky anti-Thompson website got journalists interested in its origin -- and that led to a surprise:

An opposition research-laden website called "" has surfaced that hammers the GOP's newest presidential candidate for his policy positions, lobbying work, previous dating life and ties to John McCain.

There is no disclaimer on the site and the anonymous e-mailer who sent along the link declined to identify himself/herself.

The domain was secured last month from a Utah-based web-hosting provider, Reached by phone, an employee of the company declined to identify who had purchased the site.

Clearly, though, this is no amateur effort. The volume of information and the way that it's sourced reeks of a grasstops hit-job. Repeatingly calling Thompson "Phoney Fred" in the on-message style of political operatives, the site offers up unflattering quotes with the standard attribution style of oppo everywhere. It's reminscient of such professionally-done attack sites as the NRSC's infamous-in-political-circles "Fancy Ford," the webpage the GOP senatorial committee used last fall to portray Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. as a high-rolling lady's man with a taste for luxury living.

The Washington Post discovered more when it tracked the site registration back to its source. The domain is hosted by Bluehost, and it is linked to another web domain called -- and that is tied to political consultants already attached to Mitt Romney's campaign:

Nowhere on the site does it indicate who is responsible for it. But a series of inquiries leads directly to the website of Under the Power Lines, the political consulting firm of Warren Tompkins, Romney's lead consultant in South Carolina.

The website is hosted by a company called, a firm based in Orem, Utah. An inquiry of that website about returns the following statement: "Domain is still attached to your account as Addon," the site states. "For security reasons, you must remove it BEFORE you can continue. After detaching from, you should experience some brief downtime on while its DNS propagates to your new account."

The site brings up the homepage for "Under the Power Lines," which lists Tompkins as "Partner, Consultant," along with Terry Sullivan and Welsley Donehue.

Tompkins has a history of controversy. He worked with the Bush campaign in 2000 when a couple of nasty rumors about John McCain got floated, including the accusation that he had fathered a child out of wedlock in South Carolina. This looks like more of the same, and the connection to his consulting firm seems to tie him solidly to this oppo site.

There really isn't anything wrong per se with oppo research or negative campaigning. It's perfectly legitimate to criticize one's opponents on the basis of their record in office, but one would expect a legitimate campaign to do so openly and for attribution. Doing the same anonymously not only make it less legitimate, but makes the campaign that engages in these attacks look less than courageous in their efforts.

It's not the only error, either. Calling Thompson a "skirt chaser" for being a normal bachelor with a social life seems very much over the top, especially since he's running for President and not Pope. And a campaign that has made it practically a mantra that their candidate had a genuine conversion about abortion should be the last one to point to prior ambiguity on pro-life positions.

The Romney campaign should apologize for its error. Republicans should spend less time trying to kneecap each other and more time communicating positive messages to give GOP voters a reason to feel enthusiastic about their choices in the primaries. Any candidates who want to engage in negative campaigning should have the testicular fortitude to put their name to it.

UPDATE, 9/11/07: Stephen Smith from the Romney campaign responded today, via e-mail:

The site has no direct affiliation to our campaign, and we had no knowledge of its development.

Once we received inquiries about the site, we discovered it was created by an individual who parked the site temporarily on the company server space of a firm whose financial partner is a consultant to the campaign- Mr. Tompkins. Mr. Tompkins also had absolutely no knowledge about the development of the site or that it was temporarily parked on the firm’s server.

We informed this party that as a result of that server use, we were receiving inquires about the site. We made it clear that we did not approve of the site and asked for immediate action to make sure it was again in no way affiliated with the campaign.

The person responsible is not an employee of ours, but we took immediate action to make sure it was clear the site was not affiliated with the campaign.

It is also my understanding that the site was taken off-line by whoever administers it.

I asked for a clarification on who put the site on the firm's server. It was the managing partner of Tompkins' firm, but the campaign insists that Tompkins had no knowledge of it. Stephen's a good man and I'll take him at his word. However, the Romney campaign chose to work with this firm, and they have to take responsibility for its performance. I think they owe Thompson an apology, and Republican voters can determine for themselves whether this reflects poorly on Romney's team.

Just to clarify, I think Mitt Romney is generally a class act, and I don't believe at all that he would have directed his staff to do this. He's still the man in charge, however.


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Comments (23)

Posted by RKV | September 10, 2007 10:53 PM

I guess Mitt (and he is responsible for his consultants) doesn't follow Ronnie's 11th commandment.

"Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

Posted by Carol Herman | September 10, 2007 10:58 PM

Personally, I don't care for the man from massa2shits.

But, yes, Drudge has the headline up, that his own headquarters got robbed. Which shows you the "types" that get hired, and are given keys.

As to the "phoney fred site," it begs the question: Exactly how do you spell phony? It's not a phone, ya know? Why add the 'e?'

Posted by Carol Herman | September 10, 2007 11:02 PM

Hmm. I thought John McCain fathered a child while he was a prisoner in Vietnam? Didn't he admit to having a son, there?

As to 2000 ... Yes, it was a contest where John McCain had the press supporting him. But, somehow, Bush found the base. And, got their votes.

That politicians muddy the other guy's reputation? Well, it's supposed to be done closer to election time. When are Iowan's voting? And, how is "now" considered close.

On the other hand, for stupid, any time is good. I guess.

The Internet doesn't quite bury bad news, now does it?

Posted by Carol Herman | September 10, 2007 11:05 PM

Drudge has up a great center-fold picture. Of Hillary. Ya know, she's supposedly returning $850,000 that was "bundled" by Hsu. (As if you can trace the small checks.) Really. I just laughed out loud. ALL the money came from the Chinese. And, Bill gave them real military secrets! It's not as if a refund makes any sense.

And, it's not as if saying "you're refunding the money" is true! Gosh. What BS.

Too bad Mitt Romney's not on top of the real news; so you still have to go to Drudge.

Posted by Bennett | September 10, 2007 11:06 PM

PhonyFred Site is down.

It's interesting though, what they are choosing to focus on. I wonder if their research shows that likely Republican voters are going to be turned off by Thompson's bachelor days. I don't know why that would be, I can't imagine a great many voters finding anything that odd about an unmarried man dating a lot. So far nothing seamy has come out about that.

And the Phony Fred, I saw something today, an article about how Thompson put on a big down home act when he first ran for Senate. So maybe the research shows there's some traction with that. Americans can generally smell a phony though, we don't usually need any help figuring out who is and who isn't. So that could backfire.

I know dirt can get thrown whether it's considered "helpful" dirt or not but still I wonder if there's something to back up the belief that these are weaknesses which can hurt Thompson or if it's just mud slinging for its own sake.

Posted by lesser_satan | September 10, 2007 11:17 PM

Bennett, here is a link to the Google cache of this site if you want to see it (it takes a while to load): google cache

Nothing really of substance, just sleazy gutter-sniping.

Posted by Mr. Michael | September 10, 2007 11:17 PM

I'm a Thompson supporter, but I wonder if Mitt had anything to do with this at all. I know a lot of folks who enjoy the mudslinging, and if their candidate won't go for it, it's believable that they went ahead and did it anyhow.

I'll wait to see who actually did it, and to see how the Official Romney Campaign reacts to it. If Mitt said 'Don't do it' and the mudslinger did it anyhow, it shouldn't reflect on Mitt... long as he roundly criticizes the guys who did it, and severed all connections to them.

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 10, 2007 11:18 PM


Not only is it down, but it doesn't resolve via DNS, in violation of ICANN standards. One could complain to the registrar, but that would be like complaining to the wolf about the sheep. [the domain name must resolve to an IP address with at least one open port]

Interestingly, someone on our side has snapped up as of today, and is still available. Smart move by the "Texas Rainmaker".

I got the other day when the LA Times columnist Tim Rutten misspelled wizbangblue in his article; I had several thousand hits where I normally get one or two; I suspect that none of the people who hit my site got what they wanted (although I did put a link to wizbangblue in the nose-tweaking article I wrote).

Posted by Bennett | September 10, 2007 11:21 PM

"I thought John McCain fathered a child while he was a prisoner in Vietnam? Didn't he admit to having a son, there?"

I am no expert on John McCain but I have done a fair amount of reading on his time as a POW in Vietnam and given the severity of his injuries, the horrific conditions under which he was held and the lack of available women in the prison camp, I think this is highly unlikely, to the point of absurdity.

He does have an adopted daughter who is originally from Bangladesh. She is not his biological child.

But anyone who knows otherwise, please correct me.

Posted by RBMN | September 11, 2007 12:07 AM

A case in point about Thompson's undeniable allure: At an April 18 gathering of about 60 members of Congress, organized by Rep. Zach Wamp, a Tennessee Republican, Thompson was asked about his dating history during the nearly two decades between his two marriages. In response, the one-time beau of country music singer Lorrie Morgan offered an honest assessment of his romantic history. "I was single for a long time, and, yep, I chased a lot of women," he said. "And a lot of women chased me. And those that chased me tended to catch me."

(from: )

Posted by nate | September 11, 2007 1:21 AM

I doubt Romney knew about this site at all, it seems a bit hypocritical to smear him for this not knowing if this was done independently or not.

Nothing in his history hints that he would mess with a negative site. On the other hand, a supporter could have got carried away, which is probably what happened.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 11, 2007 1:32 AM

"Deniability" is a word used,sometimes, by corrupt bosses; who give orders, but who then don't want any fingerprints, should something go wrong.

And, if you've listened to commercials, lately, you'll hear the words "AND THIS AD IS ENDORSED BY" (fill in the blanks.) Romney can't escape taking responsibility on stuff that he PAYS FOR!

In other words, offices don't open up. Campaign workers don't show up. Unless there's "quid-pro-quo." That's how people pay their rent.

Oh, by the way, Nate. Hillary's very well skilled in "that" department. Nothing ever is her fault.

Ditto, by the way, the Saudi's. There's a story of how Bandar supplied Saudi money for an American adventure in Beirut, that FAILED. We actually bombed (in retaliation for the Marines killed in Beirut), a building that housed innocent people. Because the CIA "didnt' get it quite right."

Later, the Saud's would give up the whole plan. And, Bandar said, he solved the problem "by giving up his chauffeur.

Again, I'm not impressed with the argument that the top guy "just isn't in charge." BS!

When it came to Larry Craig, folks, you'll notice how fast Mitt Romney was to condemn "wide stance, Larry" as soon as the news broke.

Another way to look at this? Through faults of his own, his ship lists.

Races are exciting because they are like that. Your horse can falter. You sail boat can tack incorrectly. Somebody can fall overboard.

Politicians have to be adept. And, lucky.

Posted by | September 11, 2007 2:50 AM

It is beyond silly to assume that Romney set this up for the sole reason that the web hosting provider is based in his home state. It could be anyone and the reasons are endless. My first thoughts went to the Julie Annie organization.

Posted by goldwater | September 11, 2007 6:02 AM

Time for Ed's weekly Romney Bash.

Nobody has come close to proving this is coming from ROMNEY's OFFICIAL campaign but rather a rouge within the ranks of his supporters.

The site CONSERVATIVESAGAINSTFRED has been up an running for months and NOBODY has said a single thing about which candidate these "supporters" might be associated with.

Let's see, who might the group "Kansans for Life" want to support for POTUS??

You are silly Ed, just silly.

Romney's camp found out about it and requested the person running it shut it down. What else could a REASONABLE person expect them to do.

Posted by Edward Cropper | September 11, 2007 7:03 AM

The ad would have been more accurate if Fred had been accused of being a skirt crawler instead of chaser.
As to his single life not being a concern of most, you don't know the animosity out there leveled at men over fifty who have
some semblance of a romantic interest in younger women.
The headline should have been, " Lecherous Fred Discards Walker To Shuffle After Jail Bait".

Posted by Bennett | September 11, 2007 7:16 AM

"you don't know the animosity out there leveled at men over fifty who have some semblance of a romantic interest in younger women."

Matched only by the ridicule a woman over 50 receives for romantic interest in younger men.

Well for a man over 50, there's young and then there's young. As long as they were all over 30, I think Fred'll be okay. At least I haven't seen any reports that he spent a lot of time hanging around college sorority houses looking for young women to "mentor".

Posted by Teresa | September 11, 2007 7:18 AM

John McCain has no illegitimate kids. He does have a daughter with dark skin who is adopted from Bangladesh. The Bush campaign spread rumors in SC during the 2000 campaign that he had a black child out of wedlock. (As well as that he was somehow a "Manchurian candidate" from having been tortured in Vietnam.) These rumors (started by people who just LOVE the military and are deeply offended by Move On) persist in whispers amongst the ignorant.

Posted by Hope Muntz | September 11, 2007 7:27 AM

Cap'n, you are going way too easy on Romney here. This is his Watergate. He's reminded detached observers like me of a younger, slicker Nixon right from the get-go, and this 'dirty trick'--which he certainly tacitly if not 'knowingly' approved--is the proof. I'm not the only one who thinks that way, either--the latest Rasmussen poll shows Thompson already in the lead, mostly at Giuliani's expense; next week's poll is gonna show a further 3-5% bump at Romney's. Betcha.

Posted by Larry J | September 11, 2007 7:42 AM

The Romney campaign should apologize for its error. Republicans should spend less time trying to kneecap each other and more time communicating positive messages to give GOP voters a reason to feel enthusiastic about their choices in the primaries.

This is something Republicans need to focus on. They did a lousy job when they had control of Congress. They spent money so wastefully that it almost made Democrats look good by comparison.

Give me reasons to vote for you, not just reasons against voting for someone else. "I'm not as sleazy or corrupt as the other guy" isn't going to cut it. Maybe it's time for a new Contract With America. Give us a reason to go to the polls. If you can't do that, you deserve to lose.

Posted by Scott | September 11, 2007 7:56 AM


Hillary Clinton. or Barak Obama. or John Edwards.

That's three reasons. All are reasons for voting against for someone else. If you need clarity with that, look that House of Representatives and the Senate. Somebody should have voted against those folks.

Posted by MarkD | September 11, 2007 8:06 AM

Let me second what LarryJ wrote. Taking a dollar from me to give me fifty cents worth of something I'd never pay for on my own is not a winning strategy.

Rep Jim Walsh (Quitter - NY) is about to go down the tubes. He's about to discover that you can't get votes by running as an R and legislating as a D. We might as well have the real thing.

Posted by charles | September 11, 2007 12:43 PM

You don't have the update up yet, but we now know the site was set up by William Donehue, who is the business partner of Tompkins, and not paid for or involved in the Romney camp.

The BloggersForFredThompson site has not picked this up yet, nor have they apologized for previously blaming Rudy Giuliani's campaign for this in a post that linked Rudy to several supposedly nefarious advertising tactics.

Until they apologize for smearing Rudy, I think they are on shaky ground asking for an apology from Romney.

Romney's camp has denounced the site: ""The site was not affiliated with our campaign, but we did make it clear that we did not approve of the site, strongly disavowed it and made sure that it had absolutely no connection to our campaign whatsoever. We took immediate action once we were alerted to it."

It was FINE for the Thompson campaign to make a big deal out of this, but it's over, unless someone has actual evidence that Donehue, who is NOT on the payroll of the campaign, did this under orders.

Posted by La | September 12, 2007 7:37 AM

Hillary Clinton. or Barak Obama. or John Edwards.

That's three reasons. All are reasons for voting against for someone else.

You're not listening. Give me reasons to vote FOR a Republican and not just against Democrats. If Republicans can't do that, then they don't deserve to get elected.

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