By Judy Kurtz
Election-year website squatters have dollar signs in their eyes, scooping up 2016-related domain names with the aim of cashing in on six-figure payouts — before any candidate has even thrown his or her hat into the ring.
The starting bid to buy either ElectHillary.com or ReelectHillary.com at GoDaddy's domain name auction site: $275,000. RandPaul.com is being offered for $125,000.
Jeremy Peter Green shelled out thousands of dollars to amass his collection of 180 domain names. The 26-year-old recent law school graduate says proudly, "As far as I know, I have a better 2016 collection than anyone else out there."
Green's bipartisan, eclectic and sometimes long-shot list pairs former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Drug prices, not ObamaCare, top priority Poll: Clinton up 7 on Trump in Pa. Clinton to propose anti-bullying plan MORE with a slew of possible Democratic vice presidential picks in domain names such as ClintonNapolitano.com, ClintonOMalley.com, and ClintonWarner.com, referring to former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerMaybe you should 'throw your vote away' on a third party or write-in The most important question in 2017: how do we get to yes? Dem asks FCC to review internet security rules after massive cyberattack MORE (Va.). And Green is gambling on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) running with Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteFive takeaways from Florida Senate debate Poll: Clinton up 9 on Trump in NH The Trail 2016: Comeback in the works? MORE (R-N.H.) for BushAyotte.com.
The Maryland native started focusing on 2016 well before the previous presidential showdown was decided, buying up domains shortly after finishing college in 2010. The domain name guessing game seemed like a natural fit for the self-professed political junkie, who worked as an autograph dealer in college to earn extra spending money.
“The only political autographs that were really worth money were people that buyers thought might become president soon, or people that already were president, so I had to speculate on who was going to be president and then get things signed by them before they got big,” Green tells ITK.
He’s banking on his Clinton names, saying the former first lady is “the single most likely candidate to be the first name” on the Democrats’ ticket. Indeed, more than 50 domains based on variations on Clinton’s name (including HillaryForPres2016.com for $8,300, HillaryNotPresident.com for $295,000, and YesHillaryCan.com for $49,995) are for sale on GoDaddy.com.
But Green, like many other Internet entrepreneurs, also attempts to think outside the box when he’s buying up domains. He purchased a domain with the name of former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño (R), saying, “I just think he’d be a cool ticket add-on for a Republican nominee, even though nobody will ever pick him.”
He’s also placing his bets on Vice President Biden making a run again in 2016, but not for commander in chief: “I also like ClintonBiden[.com], even though nobody talks about Biden running for vice president again. I still think he’s more likely than any other individual candidate to be picked for that.”
Since he buys his online acquisitions in bulk, Green pays about $8 a year per domain in his cache. Although he has yet to make a profit, he’s eyeing a big payout ahead of the presidential election.
“Definitely if you happen to have the right two last names that end up on one of the two tickets, that is worth a lot of money. I think it’s worth low six-figures if you happen to have one of those.”
Green says his goal is to sell all his domain names as a bundle to make money sooner rather than later.
“I would only sell the bundle for tens of thousands, so it would still be a pretty good amount,” he says.
But Bill Sweetman, president of the domain name consulting firm Name Ninja, says dreams of a big payday are likely pie in the political sky.
“I am aware of hundreds of different examples of people registering these names in the hopes of somebody coming along and buying it from them,” Sweetman tells ITK. “I’m not aware of a single instance where a candidate or a group bought ‘Somebody’s name for president.com.’ ”
While “technically not illegal,” according to Sweetman, snagging domain names in the hopes of selling them to a candidate or campaign “just doesn’t pass the sniff test.”
Green, who works at a labor law firm, says he knows not everyone approves of his domain name buying spree.
“It’s sort of a kind of bottom-feeding to a lot of people, I think … I mean I don’t think there’s anything to look down on about it, but I guess it’s just the idea of buying something that you don’t plan to use and then sitting on it until you can exploit it — that rubs people the wrong way,” he says.
Sweetman says he appreciates the “predicting the future” aspect of 2016 domain name sellers, but contends as a general rule: “I still don’t think you should do that with political candidates or with people.”
“It’s a gamble, and there are better ways. If you’re serious about making money and buying and selling domain names, you don’t play that game.”
Instead, the domain name expert suggests researching things, not people, that might be all the buzz in a few years.
“If you think the world is moving towards solar power, or some new thing you’re learning about … and you buy a bunch of those names and hope to sell them down the road, I think that’s fantastic," Sweetman says.
Green says he has a game plan if his domain names prove to be a tough sell: “I will use them. I’ll make fun of the politicians if I’m unable to sell them.” That’s what Green, a Democrat, did in 2012, turning a domain name based on Rick Santorum into a blog poking fun of the former GOP presidential candidate.
Asked if it ever pains him to plunk down money on domain names involving potential nominees on the opposing party’s ticket, Green replies, “No, the Republican ones are the easy ones for me to buy because if I can grab one of those domains before somebody else does and then charge as much as I can to Republican candidates, then I feel good about that.”
Green pauses before adding, “It’s the Democrat ones I feel a little more ambivalent about. But I also don’t think it’s a big deal. Somebody’s going to grab them. It might as well be me.”
Julian Hattem contributed.