State Rep Candidate’s Site Bears Remarkable Similarities to Others

Posted on Wednesday, May 28 2008 by Heather Brandon

State Rep. candidate Chelan BrownState Rep. Ben SwanUpdate 5/30 6:00 pm: Greg Saulmon at Local Buzz has an interview with Chelan Brown.

Update 5/30 11:45 am: The Republican‘s report on the press conference yesterday notes that Brown does not know who the tamperer may be, but that she was also not necessarily interested in filing a police report. CBS3 also has a report related to the press conference.

Update 5/29 2:45 pm: Brown held a noon press conference on the steps of Springfield City Hall to claim that her site was hacked, and mysteriously supplied with the plagiarized text by the unauthorized hacker. The Republican has an initial report by Peter Goonan. Bill Dusty questions what could possibly motivate a hacker to execute something in this fashion, including altering the domain registration info multiple times during the day.

Update 5/28 9:00 pm: Not only has the site been taken down temporarily, but it is also claiming “unauthorized tampering” as the reason.

Update 5/28 5:00 pm: The site for state representative candidate Chelan Brown has been taken down.

Earlier on 5/28: Discussion on MassLive.com’s Springfield forum today has centered on a Web site for city resident and activist Chelan Brown (pictured at left), who is promoting her candidacy for state representative. Brown is poised to run against longtime State Rep. Ben Swan (pictured at right).

Forum frequenter “NoPol” uncovered apparent plagiarism at Brown’s site, first noted because she cryptically used an image borrowed from Washington dollarzanother state representative candidate’s site in Washington state depicting a large dollar sign. This was originally pointed out by forum poster “NewJackCity,” who posted the link to the brand new site, and wondered why Brown would post an image showing Washington state when she is running in Massachusetts.

Presumably, the image was found in a search for “Washington” and “dollars,” and then was borrowed with a link back to the hosting site rather than being hosted independently. This made the image very easy to trace, and lo and behold, that much easier a discovery of some identical text on the issues.

The image-borrowing pointed a glaring arrow to the fact that the site it comes from, for Democrat Scott White, was also the source for Brown’s paragraphs on budget and civil rights.

From White’s site:

Budget

Whether it is an operating or capital budget, it is important to understand that the budget is policy. In other words, when a critical program or project receives funding, it can make a huge difference in the lives of people; when funds for specific programs are cut, people can be left behind. As your State Representative, I will keep a sharp eye to make sure that your tax dollars support a balanced budget which benefits the children, seniors and working families in our state.

Civil Rights

I believe that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law. As a nation and as a state, we have slowly made progress in this area… but there is still much work to do. As your State Representative, I will support marriage equality and work to make sure that all are treated equally under the law.

And from Brown’s site:

Civil Rights

I believe that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law. As a nation and as a state, we have slowly made progress in this area… but there is still much work to do. As your State Representative, I will support equality and work to make sure that all are treated equally under the law

Budget

Whether it is an operating or capital budget, it is important to understand that the budget is policy. In other words, when a critical program or project receives funding, it can make a huge difference in the lives of people; when funds for specific programs are cut, people can be left behind. As your State Representative, I will keep a sharp eye to make sure that your tax dollars support a balanced budget which benefits the children, seniors and working families in our state.

“NoPol” did a little further digging, and discovered that Brown’s section on issues included an introductory paragraph that was almost identical to a paragraph from the campaign site for Massachusetts State Rep. Tom Conroy (now in office) about why he ran. From Conroy’s campaign site:

My focus now is on making our towns stronger and better places to live and work. I relish my almost daily “running for office” door-to-door jogs, because I get a chance to meet with voters, listen to your concerns, and engage you in a civic dialogue. It’s fun for me, and I want to continue to enlist your support, your energy, your ideas and your talents toward building a better future for our towns.

And the same piece, essentially, on Brown’s site:

My focus is on making our district stronger and a better place to live and work. I relish my almost daily “running for office” door-to-door walks, because I get a chance to meet with voters, listen to your concerns, and engage you in a civic dialogue. It’s real for me, and I want to continue to enlist your support, your energy, your ideas and your talents toward building a better future for our towns.

Furthermore, also in the issues section, Brown borrowed heavily from the campaign site for Connecticut State Representative Kim Fawcett (now in office) on energy and the environment. From Fawcett’s site:

We must continue to make our state a healthier place while striving for energy-independence. As a mother, I’m concerned about both spiraling energy costs and the air that our children breathe. I support sensible energy and environmental policies that promote alternative technologies, improve conservation and efficiency measures, and encourage cleaner cars.

And from Brown’s site:

We must continue to make our state a healthier place while striving for energy-independence. As a mother, I’m concerned about both spiraling energy costs and the air that our children breathe. I support sensible energy and environmental policies that promote alternative technologies, improve conservation and efficiency measures, and encourage cleaner cars.

Another user on the forum, “diputsnalehc,” pointed out additional plagiarized paragraphs. Brown’s portion on creating jobs and fighting outsourcing appeared to be lifted from the campaign site for Michigan State Representative Kathy Angerer (now in office). From Angerer’s site:

In this era of outsourcing and downsizing, I am committed to creating jobs in Michigan and working to strengthen our economy. That means standing up to the status quo and the special interests that want to ship our jobs to other states and countries. In the Legislature, I supported a plan to end the Single Business Tax, which creates impediments for growing companies and discourages businesses from locating in Michigan.

I will work hard to diversify our economy and make Michigan a magnet for high-tech, high-skill jobs in emerging new fields such as alternative fuels, advanced manufacturing and homeland security.

And from Brown’s site:

In this era of outsourcing and downsizing, I am committed to creating jobs in Western Massachusetts and working to strengthen our economy. That means standing up to the status quo and the special interests that want to ship our jobs to other states and countries.

I will work hard to diversify our economy and make Western Massachusetts a magnet for high-tech, high-skill jobs in emerging new fields such as alternative fuels, advanced manufacturing and homeland security.

Lastly, even the “About Chelan” section appeared to have been plagiarized, in this case from Illinois state representative candidate Daniel Biss. From Biss’s campaign site:

Daniel Biss is a Democratic candidate for the Illinois House of Representative in the 17th District. As a teacher, university researcher, political organizer, and civically active community member, Daniel cares deeply about solving problems and ensuring that our district’s strong Democratic values are represented in Springfield.

An experienced mathematician and teacher, Daniel is currently Assistant Professor of mathematics at The University of Chicago. He also volunteers as a math teacher at the North Lawndale College Preparatory High School, a charter school on Chicago’s west side aimed at readying at-risk youth for college. Daniel’s commitment to excellence in education plays a defining role in his desire to make a difference for Illinois.

A seasoned grassroots organizer, Daniel has coordinated political campaigns throughout the area. As co-chair of the Illinois Committee of 100 and the Illinois Kerry Travelers, he has helped progressive candidates on both state and federal levels in their fight to make substantive change. Through these efforts, Daniel has created avenues for thousands of dedicated Illinois citizens to join the political process and act on their commitment to our democracy.

Now, Daniel wants to make a more direct impact by representing the citizens of the 17th District and pushing for real reform in the state of Illinois. …

Daniel earned his doctorate from MIT and his undergraduate degree from Harvard University.

And from Brown’s site:

Chelan Brown is a Democratic candidate for the Massachusetts House of Representative in the 11th Hampden District. As a political organizer, and civically active community member, Chelan cares deeply about solving problems and ensuring that our district’s strong Democratic values are represented in Springfield.

An experienced youth advocate, Chelan is currently the Executive Director of A.W.A.K.E. Incorporated. She also volunteers as an advisor to a parenting organization comprised of mothers who have lost children to the horrid gang and street violence in the City of Springfield.

A seasoned grassroots organizer, Chelan has worked on political campaigns throughout the area. She has helped progressive candidates on both state and local levels in their fight to make substantive change. Through these efforts, Chelan has created avenues for thousands of dedicated Springfield citizens to join the political process and act on their commitment to our democracy.

Now, Chelan wants to make a more direct impact by representing the citizens of the 11th Hampden District and pushing for real reform in the state of Massachusetts.

Chelan has attended Hampshire College and recently began work on her undergraduate degree from Phoenix University online.

Perhaps this type of borrowing is more common than we want to believe among state representatives and candidates for office, but regardless it is not a good practice. Here’s something that seems to have been written originally plagiarized as well:

As a resident of this district, I know what it’s like to feel let down by politicians, and I want better for Western Massachusetts families.

This is probably a sentiment shared by many.

27 Responses to “State Rep Candidate’s Site Bears Remarkable Similarities to Others”

  1. Jeff http://ldopa.net

    NoPol rules.

  2. NoPolitician

    The graphic is what tipped me off. I figured that no one could be dumb enough to confuse Washington state with Washington DC, so I searched for the phrase “Whether it is an operating or capital budget, it is important to understand that the budget is policy”. There was one instance of this phrase across the entire web, on the Scott White website. And surprise, surprise, the Washington State with the dollar sign was there.

    Ripping off clipart is fairly commonplace, but ripping off a platform is just insanely dumb, particularly in this day and age of Google.

    I suspect that she probably delegated this task to someone on her committee, and this is what they came up with. Too bad, because I think that the 11th Hampden district could have used a breath of fresh air.

  3. Newjackcity

    Heather,

    You should give Nopol the credit for doing the research and finding out it was plagiarized. But what brought this whole thing to light was the fact that I questioned why she had a graphic of Washington state on her website. Otherwise, this was a great find on everyone’s part, and I want to thank you for publicizing this.

    NewJackCity

  4. NoPolitician

    Yes, I reacted to the post from NewJackCity pointing out the dollar sign. It was a good team effort all around.

    Even MIchaelann Bewsee discovered that the “As a resident of this district, I know what it’s like to feel let down by politicians, and I want better for Western Massachusetts families.” was plagiarized.

  5. Newjackcity

    Teamwork, it’s a beautiful thing!

  6. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Thank you both. I have added credit to you in the post, NewJackCity. You were the person who originally posted a link to the site in the first place. Another correction: some of the folks whose text was lifted appear to be candidates at this point and not actually incumbent state representatives (as far as I can tell), so I’ve altered the wording in the post above to reflect that accurately. It was not immediately evident, at first glance, whether these candidacy sites were relevant for the coming election season, or were possibly remnants of a previous season.

  7. Erica Walch

    I think you should all cut her some slack. The pablum that people spout to be elected is, by nature, bland and unoriginal. It’s quite possible that her group actually came up with at least *some* of these thoughts/sentences on their own. The resume/”About the candidate” part in particular looks like standard resume fare. There are certain “literary” conventions in writing this kind of stuff, and I can really believe that (the about section) was written without borrowing.

    I would have loved to see her wage an original and outsider-type campaign, but I imagine someone advised her that in order to get elected, she would have to sound like every traditional candidate, and that advice probably lead to reading what every traditional candidate has to say, and somehow (through inspiration or recitation) her site looks like many other candidates’.

    I imagine that there are many other candidates web sites out there that look a lot like this.

  8. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Greg Saulmon at Local Buzz has a recap of what happened today regarding this campaign site and he notes that he sent an email requesting comment to Tahon Ross, the person listed as the site’s administrative and technical contact.

  9. Luis http://www.councilmancotto.com/

    NoPol – Don’t even think about going to my site! And it bears absolutely no resemblance to Nancy Pelosi’s page!! :-)

    Great job!!

  10. Belmont

    Erica – these passages are word for word. This isn’t looking like others or sounding like others, this is exactly like others. These were very clearly lifted, it may not be worth a big scandal, but there is no doubt they were lifted.

  11. Bronwen http://www.cdevision.com

    Excellent post, Heather! This kind of thing happens frequently online – there are even a few sites devoted to “showcasing” this, e.g. pirated-sites.com. My business launched a new site last December and within a month a French company had plagiarized our new site – text and images. What made it funny was they hadn’t bothered to remove our copyright notice from the source code. They’ve since changed their design but still use our text.

    Frequently this kind of plagiarism is not the fault of the site owner, but the fault of a lazy (or crooked) site developer. That being said, a site owner should approve content and text before going live…

  12. Herb http://www.cross-spectrum.com/weblog

    “Hackers”??!!

    I have tremendous respect for all that Chelan has accomplished, but we’re expected to believe that the site was tampered with? Sorry, I don’t buy it. Hackers deface websites using goatse, porn and obscenities. They don’t take the time to deface a site in a way that might be favorable to the victim.

  13. bstateob

    What a laughable farce!

  14. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Good points Bronwen and Herb. I just posted a comment on Dusty’s site questioning whether Brown needed the anonymous MassLive forum users to assist her in doing some site quality control. Perhaps that is so. “Hacking” is a very different allegation than “unauthorized tampering,” which could just mean it lacked final review and approval before going live.

    A hacker would bring out more manifest disparaging intentions, it seems, than someone working to make Brown look credible and electable, as the site appeared to try to do before it was yanked. Others have pointed this out elsewhere and I think it’s a highly valid issue. If someone wanted to bring down the campaign by tinkering with the site, there are many other things they could do besides carefully plagiarizing others’ material and coming up with a believable result that shed such a positive light on the candidate.

    In cases like this I am a fan of Occam’s razor.

  15. Bronwen http://www.cdevision.com

    The hacking theory does seems a bit absurd. Did anyone ask Chelan Brown what evidence she has that the site was hacked? If the site was truly hacked, there would be evidence of this in the webhost server logs.

  16. Matt

    As Greg pointed out a bit, here’s now what the WhoIs reads:

    [whois.misk.com]
    Registrant:
    Organization
    888 Johannasey Road
    Springfield, MA 01109
    US

    Domain name: ELECTCHELANBROWN.COM

    Administrative Contact:
    Upton, Bill icme@hotmail.com
    888 Johannasey Road
    Springfield, MA 01109
    US
    +1.8762357865 Fax:

    Technical Contact:
    Upton, Bill icme@hotmail.com
    888 Johannasey Road
    Springfield, MA 01109
    US
    +1.8762357865 Fax:

    Registrar of Record: MISK.COM
    Record last updated on 2008-May-28.
    Record expires on 2009-May-14.
    Record created on 2008-May-14.

    Domain servers in listed order:
    NS.DNSPROTECT.COM
    NS2.DNSPROTECT.COM

    As you can see though, the domain was created on the 14th (just over 2 weeks ago). Hacked that quick? Doubt it.

  17. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Bill Dusty, Greg Saulmon and I have been trying to research the claims of tampering a bit, each in our own ways, and we have more or less collectively come up with the information that at this point, nothing can be verified or confirmed.

    The domain registration service for the site, misk.com, has claimed lack of knowledge of any tampering because it is just providing the domain service. The data hosting provider, gnax.net, has said it cannot provide further information because it is just providing data hosting services, and not direct web hosting services. Ironically, a support person at gnax suggested to me that more information could be gleaned by contacting the admin person listed in the whois info.

    That person, currently Bill Upton, is listed with an apparent false street address, and the email contact is bogus (does not exist). A Google search for that email address comes up with some strange, spammy results.

    I was told to look into services provided by the company listed as the owner of the nameservers, dnsprotect.com. But that domain offers very little, and appears to be in place in order to offer some protection of information.

    Without a court order, it would appear to be very difficult to learn more via any third-party channels regarding who is in charge of this web site and whether or not there really was any breach of access. My best guess is that gnax.net certainly has data logs, but is not under any obligation to provide them unless ordered to do so by the authorities, and even then such provision could be legally contested and delayed.

    This all comes back around to the campaign itself as the beginning and the end of any information that can be confirmed about the tampering.

    I’m sure Saulmon will have more to say by the end of the day as well about what he is learning, but he may not be ready to post for a bit.

  18. Belmont

    It seems rather silly that a website that was just started days ago that nobody even knew about would be quickly “hacked” in a manner that provided content for the webpage. That doesn’t sound like a hacking. That sounds like someone breaking into my house and leaving me a new TV.

    archive.org could tell you what the page looked like on each day. I’m having trouble loading it though.

  19. Bill Dusty http://springfieldintruder.com

    I do not believe – I *cannot* believe – this was a hacking job. And until the Brown campaign either produces evidence of such, or files a complaint with law enforcement, I will remain unconvinced.

  20. Jeremy Cole

    Oh dear. As someone who deals with websites on a daily basis, this is all too common an occurance. I recently had a potential client ask the company I work for to take over a database driven website they created. They said that they had 2000 members in their database. Not only was that not true (no one had been using it) but the text for the site had been pulled verbatim from a competitor.

    I am often given “source” material, which I find later comes from copyrighted material on the web. I now have a routine I go through where I grab phrases from text I am given and “Google” it. If I pull up the text on another site, I then contact the client who gave it to me and ask them if they have the rights to the material and refer them to the site where I found their text. The project stops until they agree that we need to contact the copyright holder and see if it can be used. Usually, the answer is yes, provided that either credit is given or if it is a profit making enterprise, then a fee is charged or some other means of payment agreed to or the text is not used!

    Erica does make some interesting points. Yes, I suspect that if we go out and do some research we will find that there is a lot of borrowed text in the small time political world. I did find it interesting that the text came from all over the country. This means that there was a lot of research going on to see how other politicians express themselves. I liked that, but the next step wasn’t done, which is to think through what you own positions are and then to express them using your own words so we the voters can see who you are and what you consider important.

    I am disturbed by Chelan Brown’s response to this incident, since she is someone who wants to represent part of the Springfield community and replace a long time Pol.

    Had she said, “Oh my goodness, that is terrible and apologised to the people whose websites she lifted the content from and and explained that she just had some overeager volunteers”, it would be a non-story for me. Instead, she made herself look dishonest. Sorry, I don’t buy her explanation; it just doesn’t work that way on the web.

  21. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    I agree that a good response to this evident problem is to own up to the error and pledge to fix it. Fortunately Brown has stated that she will launch a new site, and her team definitely did the right thing in taking the painfully plagiarized one down.

    The suggestion that the problem is an unauthorized tamperer (which could simply be a campaign volunteer for all we know, who had a password but not necessarily approval or permission to change the site) sounds kind of like a red herring. Like Belmont said about a burglar who breaks in and leaves a new TV, and as my husband commented: the perp(s) must belong to the League of Considerate Hackers.

    Also, this just in: Saulmon’s interview with Chelan Brown is up.

  22. Belmont

    I also don’t like the answer of “the Police are too overburdened” so I won’t call it in. Not an answer I’d want someone repping me to say on any issue.

    I think Sheila will agree with me that every crime, no matter how small it is perceived to be, should be called in.

    Agree with Jeremy, if she just handled this upfront I’d have no problem. But the story is hard to believe. Maybe we’re all wrong and this was a masterminded hacking job, and I hope we are for her sake.

  23. Matt

    Boy, Greg’s stuff casts even more suspicion on this little mess..she’s keeping awfully quiet:

    http://blog.masslive.com/localbuzz/2008/05/chelan_brown_maintains_unautho.html

    I like this out of the Repub:

    “She said her initial campaign Web site was created on Sunday with only one page, and was tampered with on Wednesday.”

    Man, save the

  24. Matt

    Ignore the last bit ;)

  25. Mittineague http://www.mittineague.com

    The saying “When pointing, 1 finger points elsewhere, 3 point back”, is key here. This is no example of “hacking”, but rather “scraping” or “bought content”. The fault clearly lies under Chelan Brown, who would do best to publicly acknowledge this. The use of scraped (i.e. stolen) content is common as is using “generic cookie cutter” content (perhaps used as “fill” in this case to get the site up quickly?).
    Putting blame on others is not uncommon, perhaps it’s even a “natural” human trait, but IMHO a politician should be more web savvy or at least admit the error, NOT put the blame elsewhere. What action or inaction Chelan Brown takes will speak volumes regarding her transparancy and honesty.

  26. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Chelan Brown officially announced her candidacy today.

  27. citynotes http://www.springfieldmedia.com/Friday519.html

    Wanted to mention that the cut off for voter registration for the primary election is August 27, 8:00pm.

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