Political operatives click away to stick it to the other guy
Their reputation for being cliquish -- er, clickish -- precedes them.
All they need is a computer mouse and the Internet.
With a simple right click -- or left, depending on one's political persuasion -- the game within the game unfolds.
And we're not talking solitaire.
"It happens at a lot of different campaigns. I'd love to say that it is rare, but it is not," said Jason Perillo, a spokesman for Dan Debicella, the Republican frontrunner for Congress in Connecticut's 4th District.
Clandestine campaign operatives clicking on a rival candidate's Internet ads to drive up the opposition's costs by artificially raising traffic numbers is becoming all the rage in Connecticut's high-stakes political races, according to multiple people with knowledge of the practice.
"You know, the way the thing is structured, you don't pay for the showing, you pay for the click," Perillo said.
Perillo denied that any kind of cyber attack played a role in the decision by Debicella to pull all of his ads off the Internet, however.
"That didn't affect why we took them down," Perillo said, citing an internal decision by the campaign that he did not elaborate on.
One Democratic Party operative, who requested that his name be withheld for fear of retribution, said that the practice was quite rampant in the gubernatorial campaigns of party rivals Dannel Malloy and Ned Lamont.
"I've heard that is something that campaigns do," said Justine Sessions, a spokeswoman for Lamont. "All of our employees are specifically instructed not to do that."
Sessions said she had no evidence that Lamont's campaign was victimized by such a scheme.
Told about the practice during a campaign stop Friday in Greenwich, Lamont made light of the strategy.
"I thought I was just popular," he said.
Lamont put a Nixonian spin on the story, likening it to the "dirty tricks" that were the trademark of presidential politics during the 1970s that caused one White House hopeful to lose his emotions.
"That would make Edmund Muskie cry," Lamont said, referring to the former senator who also served as governor of Maine and secretary of state.
A spokesman for Malloy said the campaign wasn't aware of the issue.
Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Tom Foley isn't taking any chances, however.
"Even if someone were doing that, we have a click-fraud plan that would prevent us from paying excess charges," said Liz Osborn, a spokeswoman for Foley.
A message seeking comment was left Monday for the gubernatorial campaign of Republican rival Michael Fedele, the current lieutenant governor.
While a number of search engines base their advertising fees on clicks, websites such as those of Hearst Connecticut Newspapers charge candidates according to the number of times a page loads -- in denominations of 1,000 -- with their ad on it.
None of the campaigns ultimately owned up to trying to drive up the costs of the opposition.
"I have more important things to do," Debicella's spokesman Perillo said.