Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Jim Schroeder filed a complaint Monday, Feb. 10 with the Federal Election Committee over a National Republican Congressional Committee website mocking Bill Hughes Jr., who is challenging U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
The Republican site, www.billhughesjrforcongress.com, was up the day Hughes announced his campaign. In it, Hughes, a defense attorney, is accused of “a career of making big money trying to keep New Jersey’s most powerful and corrupt criminals out of prison.”
It includes an image of hands handcuffed behind the back of a man in a business suit and the phrase “Better Call Bill!” which seems to be a reference to a corrupt attorney in the popular television series “Breaking Bad.”
“There’s no need for that,” Schroeder said in an interview Monday. “It’s disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst.”
Schroeder called the website “dirty tricks,” while Hughes went further, suggesting in a phone interview that it could be illegal. Hughes suggested that the campaign violated federal rules against cyber-squatting by trying to monopolize any variation of Bill Hughes for Congress, and pointed out that the site also sought funds. There is a large red “donation” button prominent on the page.
“So it is evident that the NRCC and Frank LoBiondo are trying to profit off of my name,” Hughes said.
Officials with the NRCC have defended similar websites as both legal and fair, and in interviews with national media have stated that money will be refunded to anyone who was confused when they donated funds.
The LoBiondo campaign said it had nothing to do with the website or its creation, and said it would be up to the NRCC to comment on its intent.
“Frank LoBiondo is always proud to talk about his record of working for South Jersey. We think every candidate ought to stand behind their record and not hide it,” stated Jason Galanes, the spokesman for LoBiondo for Congress, in an email Monday.
A spokesman for the NRCC dismissed the complaint.
“This is nothing more than a Mickey Mouse complaint filed on behalf of a Mickey Mouse candidate like Bill Hughes Jr.," said Ian Prior, the Northeast regional press secretary for the NRCC. "The fact is that this website gives people information about Hughes Jr. that he is apparently unwilling to put up on his own website – specifically, that he spent his career standing up for some of New Jersey’s most corrupt criminals and putting them back on the streets.”
In an email on Monday, he said the website was not meant to confuse voters, and was clearly not established by Hughes’ team.
“No one can spend more than two seconds on this site without realizing that this is not a site that is pro-Bill Hughes Jr. In fact, it says in giant bold letters ‘Helping New Jersey’s most corrupt criminals since 2002.’ One would be hard pressed to find a candidate for Congress that would use that as a campaign slogan,” he wrote. “Perhaps Hughes Jr. should spend less time trying to use the legal system to silence the truth about his past and more time writing up a more complete biography and issues page for his own bare-bones website.”
Hughes’ actual campaign website, hughesforcongress.net, is a single page with a photo of Hughes and a brief biography that mentions that he is a former federal prosecutor and Boy Scout.
“I’ve given back, taken criminals off the street, and delivered a record of real results of standing up for New Jersey families. This is exactly what you deserve from Congress – results,” the site reads in part.
According to a copy of the complaint from the Hughes camp posted at buzzfeed.com, the NRCC has established websites at 15 Internet addresses that are variations of Bill Hughes for Congress, and have taken out Internet ads that direct potential searchers to the Republican site.
“Nothing in the title or text of the body of the website identifies it as a special project of the NRCC,” reads the complaint.
However, the GOP’s site does state in small white letters at the bottom of the page “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”
In October, the NRCC announced launching the site on its blog, as well as the use of targeted search ads. That announcement was made the same day Hughes announced his intention to run. At that time, LoBiondo welcomed Hughes to the race.
“As I have said previously, I welcome all interested candidates into the race and look forward to a vigorous discussion of the issues, their involvement in our community and the qualifications they would bring to representing the 2nd Congressional District,” LoBiondo said in a prepared statement at the time.
At the same time, the NRCC came out swinging.
“In fact, Hughes Jr. even boasts on his law firm website about all the light sentences that he helped get for convicted criminals. The choice in this election will be very clear – a bipartisan leader and public servant like Congressman LoBiondo, or a criminal defense lawyer like Hughes Jr. who specialized in standing up for the rich, powerful, and criminally corrupt,” Prior said in October.
Interviewed before the LoBiondo campaign was contacted, Schroeder suggested LoBiondo would likely say he knew nothing about the website, and that his campaign had nothing to do with it. But Schroeder responded that LoBiondo had financially supported the NRCC for years.
Hughes said he would rather start the campaign talking about issues like unemployment, but suggested LoBiondo is afraid to stand on his record of 20 years in Congress.
“Because he hasn’t done his job he’s going to attack me for doing mine,” Hughes said.
Hughes is the son of William and Nancy Hughes. His father held the 2nd District seat in the House of Representatives for 20 years, after unseating Republican Charles Sandman in the wake of Watergate. He once defeated LoBiondo to hold the seat.
Two years later, LoBiondo won the seat in 1994, after Hughes decided not to seek another term. At that time he faced a tough primary fight, but strongly won in the general election, and has strongly won his seat every two years since then.
The NRCC has used similar tactics in several campaigns this year, and last week announced the launch of NancyPelosi2014.com, attacking the former House Speaker and current minority leader from California.