When Paul Joffe saw that BernieSanders.com was available for purchase in early 2014, he just about lost it.
“I figured that if I could buy it, anyone could buy it and that is bad,” said the diehard Sanders supporter. “I was worried that somebody would buy it and redirect it to BernieSucks.com or something like that.”
So Joffe – a 53-year-old property redeveloper who now lives in New Marlborough, Massachusetts but spent part of his childhood in Vermont – asked his wife for permission and spent $2,500 to buy the domain name himself.
“She said, ‘Absolutely get it,’” Joffe recalled. “Yeah, she is really cool.”
For the first few weeks the domain just directed visitors to Sanders’ Senate page. But in April 2014, shortly after he purchased it, representatives from Sanders’ political action committee reached out and asked Joffe if he would be willing to sell the domain name.
He gave them a flat no. He didn’t want money, he told them. All he wanted was to meet the senator.
The story of how Sanders, the newly minted presidential candidate, came to own BernieSanders.com exemplifies the kind of grassroots liberal support the independent senator enjoys. And the story of his acquisition contrasts vividly with domain name mistakes that have hurt other presidential candidates.
In the age of online campaigns, it is critical that a candidate owns almost every conceivable variation of his or her domain name.
Republican hopeful Carly Fiorina found this out the hard way when a marketing employee at the Service Employees International Union bought CarlyFiorina.org and used it to note how many people the former Hewlett-Packard executive laid off during her 10-year tenure. As did Ted Cruz, when the owner of TedCruz.com used the website to urge support for President Barack Obama’s immigration policies, which the Texas senator flatly opposes. And while it didn’t cause Sen. Rand Paul a black eye, it was revealed this week that his campaign had to spend about $100,000 to buy RandPaul.com.
But for Sanders, all it cost was a little time.
When Joffe got the call from Sanders’ aides, he thought he was being scammed.
He told the aides, “Well you know, I want to give it to you but I am concerned that anybody could be calling me saying ‘Hey, I am Bernie Sanders. We want that domain name. Transfer it to me.’”
So he said in order to get the domain – for free – he wanted to meet the senator. And that’s exactly what happened.
Joffe and his wife, who didn’t want to be named in this article, attended a meeting Sanders was having in Bennington, Vermont last April. After the meeting, he got to spend time with the senator and presented him with a framed “deed” to BernieSanders.com. The frame, Joffe said, was made out of wood from his farm.
“It was so incredible for us,” Joffe said. “We are fans of Bernie and love Vermont.”
The Massachusetts resident said he and the senator talked about a number of issues, including running for president, and about why he bought the domain name.
“I am really happy he is running for president,” Joffe said. “I told him I hoped he would and was talking to him about running for president and he said, ‘Hey, hey, I don’t know yet.’”
Joffe said his admiration for Sanders has deepened by the day and that he is still in touch with some of Sanders’ aides.
“He seemed like a really nice old man,” he said. “Kind of, you know, busy, but a really nice guy.”