We have all heard the stories about companies or organizations that accidentally let their domains lapse, which are then immediately purchased by someone who demands a ransom. This has happened to the Dallas Cowboys, Microsoft and even Google. But what about companies or organizations who don’t own the obvious domain names that they should? Most businesses or organizations understand the need to buy up all the domains that contain their name, especially large and high profile ones. Some, however, do not.
I ran for the Alaska State Senate in 2012 as a first time candidate. Although I lost the primary, I did get nearly 45% and surprised a lot of people. I knew I wanted to run again. Fast forward 3 years and I decided to file again to run for the same senate seat. I heard rumors that the incumbent, Lesil McGuire, may not seek re-election. I was really hoping she would. I also heard rumors that Natasha von Imhof was going to run for the seat. I did not know much about her other than she was on the school board and is the daughter of Ed Rasmuson and granddaughter of Elmer Rasmuson. Elmer took over the National Bank of Alaska from his father in 1949. Ed became president of the bank in 1974 and chairman of the board in 1985. The family sold the bank to Wells Fargo in 2000 for $907 million (#907 baby). Much of that money went to the Rasmuson Foundation, which provides grants to Alaska non-profits.
It soon became clear to me that Natasha was going to file for the seat. We set up a meeting in the summer of 2015. She told me she was going to run. I told her I was also running. We wished each other luck in our campaigns. I knew Natasha’s family connections in Alaska, and her vast personal wealth, would make her a tough opponent. There was no way I could raise the kind of money she could, not even close. I knew I had to run a different kind of campaign, a creative one. I also figured there is no way she has ever had to deal with someone like Jeff Landfield.
When you are running against someone for a political office, you do opposition research. I learned that Natasha worked for the National Bank of Alaska (wonder how she got that job), sits on the board of the Rasmuson Foundation (secretary and treasurer) and also on the board of the Atwood Foundation. Turns out Robert Atwood married Elmer’s sister. Robert and Elmer were in business together. They invested in Richfield Oil and struck it big in the 1950’s when they discovered oil. Talk about a power family!
When Natasha rolled out her campaign she chose the slogan “Serious About Alaska.” She is a pretty serious person after all. I thought it would be funny to buy SeriousAboutAlaska.com and forward it to my campaign website. I don’t think she liked that too much, but me and many others found it very funny. Especially because the domain only cost $10.
I filed for the senate seat in July of 2015. Soon after, I hired Cale Green to run my campaign. I had just met him but knew he was the perfect person for the job. We have since become really good friends. So, on a cold Alaska night Cale and I were at my house discussing the campaign. At this point the Rasmuson Foundation was getting heavily involved in the debate to use part of the Permanent Fund earnings to fund government. Natasha was silent about her board position. It clearly made her uncomfortable that this obvious question was being asked. I figured because she was on the board, and in agreement with a policy her board was spending millions of dollars on lobbying, it was all fair game. I joked with Cale and said, “Damn it would be funny if rasmusonfoundation.com or .org was available” (Their website is rasmuson.org). I went to GoDaddy and to my disbelief both were available. I also picked up therasmusonfoundation.com and .org and rasmusonalaska.com and .org. In total it cost me about $70.
I had no idea what I was going to do with the domains. To be honest, I was a little nervous about picking a fight with an organization with as much power as them. Some time had passed and I basically forgot about it. But as April 1, April Fools Day, approached I had a wild idea. I forwarded rasmusonfoundation.org to my campaign website and then posted that URL on my Facebook page and said something like “Politics aside, check out this great organization’s website.” Within 30 minutes I got a phone call from a friend of mine, turns out his company does all of their IT work. Alaska is a small town. Needless to say the folks at the Rasmuson Foundation were not amused. They initially thought they were hacked but later realized what really happened. My friend requested I remove the forwarding. I told him I would do it the next day as a favor to him. He also said they wanted to talk to me about acquiring the domains. I told him to have them contact me.
I then get a text from the communications director of the foundation asking what I wanted for the domains. I told her I would give them the domains for a $1,000 donation to Alaska Resource Education, a great Alaska non-profit that teaches kids about the benefits of resource development. I told her the offer would expire in 2 weeks. I also said I would remove the forwarding. She agreed and said she would be in touch. Two weeks goes by and nothing. Another 2 weeks goes by and I decided to forward all the domains to my website without telling anyone and see what happens. Within a few days she contacts me again saying she wants to make the deal. I told her that my offer expired in 2 weeks and it has in fact been over a month. She said someone “dropped the ball” and should have been in touch with me. I told her the donation amount was now $2,000. Her response was awesome, she offered to meet me halfway at $1,500. I respected the hustle and told her, “I like your style, deal!” Within a few hours she sent me conformation of the donation. I went to my friend’s office and transferred all of the domains.
The word got out quick. I got many phone calls from friends advising me not to pick a fight with them. It even came up at work. Months later I was at a restaurant after going door to door for my campaign. A girl was there who recognized me. She told me she used to work with the foundation and happened to be there when they realized what happened. She said they were freaking the hell out and the executive director was very angry. If I had to guess the comments ranged from, “How did that fucking guy get our website?” and “Someone is getting fired!” In the end it was no big deal and everyone made out great. The Rasmuson Foundation got domains, at a real bargain, that they should have bought a long time ago and Alaska Resource Education got a nice donation. I also was told by a friend that many Alaska non-profits and businesses went and bought up domain names they should own. I wonder how much they would have been willing to pay? I probably left some money on the table.