Website bearing Matheson's name supports opponent

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A website bearing the name of U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson is actually a page supporting his Democratic primary opponent.

The site,, is titled "Conservatives for Claudia Wright."

Wright herself says she is surprised by the website. "I think it reflects winning at any cost," she says. "I think it reflects unethical behavior."

Some see the website as 'suspicious' because the people behind it are hiding their identity, and a lot of people are asking whether it's legal to use Matheson's own name against him.

Though it's probably not illegal, it's not exactly ethical. But keep in mind, it is a political campaign.

I think it reflects winning at any cost. I think it reflects unethical behavior.

–Claudia Wright

Though the website has Wright's name in the title, further down on the homepage another area says "I stand with Obama -- where was Matheson on health care reform?"

If it seems a little conflicting and confusing to you, you're not alone.

Wright says she has no idea where this website came from.

"We were fairly suspicious of it, frankly, and I was surprised by it," she says.

But in the big picture, political observers say anti-Matheson is an internet variation on sneaky campaign fliers.

Ethically, it may be questionable. But University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank says it's also part of politics.

"This is simply the Internet-age version of that very same tactic which has been around in politics for a very long time," he says.

The next question is whether "cybersquatting," or using Jim Matheson's name against him, is illegal. Intellectual property attorney John Rees says probably not.

"There's probably not a lot to do," he says. "If the statements are not defamatory, unless he's registered trademark, and even then it's an interstate commerce issue, so it probably wouldn't carry any weight there," he says.

One possible legal problem could be with FEC laws, since the site solicits donations and the link is not tied to Wright's campaign.

Wright is a retired school teacher who is attacking Matheson from his left. Many Republicans believe Wright would be easier to defeat in a general election than Matheson, who is seeking a sixth term.

The Republican nominee is Morgan Philpot, a former state lawmaker who resigned his post as vice chairman of the state Republican Party earlier this year to focus on his congressional campaign.

So is this really an attempt to encourage Republicans to cross over to the Democrat primary? Wright says it's unlikely and unwise.

"I think Republicans have more sense than that," she says. "I think Republicans are intelligent enough to know that if you've removed a sitting senator and you have a senatorial race, it becomes very important who you choose."

Of course, everyone wants to know who created the website. One thing is for sure: whoever did it went to lengths to remain anonymous.


Story compiled with contributions from Richard Piatt, Adam Thomas and The Associated Press

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