09/27/06 — State probes web site painting Van Braxton as Socialist

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State probes web site painting Van Braxton as Socialist

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on September 27, 2006 1:49 PM

After two months of investigation, a state Board of Elections official said Tuesday that authorities are still trying to find out who created a Web site parodying District 10 Democratic House candidate Van Braxton as a Socialist.

Braxton's opponent, Wayne County Republican Willie Ray Starling, said he knows nothing about the site's construction or its authorship.

"Right now we're unsure who (the Web site) belongs to. We have strong indications, but we can't discuss it during an open investigation," state elections investigator Marshall Tutor said.

The Web site, www.vanbraxton.com, labels Braxton, a member of the Kinston City Council, as a Socialist who supports abortion and keeping God out of the classrooms. The site also shows the faces of Braxton, Kinston Mayor Buddy Ritch and Kinston Democratic leader Lyle Holland imposed on cartoon images.

After learning of the Web site, Tutor said he examined its content and said he believes the site is in violation of state statutes.

According to state law, it is considered a misdemeanor "for any person to publish in a newspaper or pamphlet or otherwise, any charge derogatory to any candidate or calculated to affect the candidate's chances of nomination or election, unless such publication be signed by the party giving publicity to and being responsible for such charge."

According to the same statute, it is illegal for "any person to publish or cause to be circulated derogatory reports with reference to any candidate in a primary or election, knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, when such report is calculated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election."

Tutor said the state board considers the Internet as a form of communication to issue false or derogatory statements about a candidate, but it has been difficult to find the person or persons who created the Web site.

The initial investigation determined that Kinston businessman Fred Riggs was the site's owner. Riggs, whose rustikat.net Internet service hosts Web sites, said his name was listed as the owner because it was requested by his client.

"If the owner doesn't want to be known as the owner of the site, I put it under my name. Most companies would charge a fee, but I do it for the clients as a matter of good business practice," Riggs said.

If a client is interested in having his or her own Web site, Riggs said that person can lease a server and sell Web space to other people, or Riggs will sell a person a Web site which he or she can create independently. For a higher fee, Riggs said he will sell a Web site and create it himself.

After selling a site, Riggs said he usually doesn't look at the Web page again. But when Kinston detectives came to his home and he was summoned by the state Board of Elections for questioning, he said he got online to see "what all the fuss was about."

Riggs said he doesn't believe there is anything illegal about the site. Starling said he also visited the site and doesn't believe it's illegal. He added that he knew nothing about the site's creation and that neither he nor his campaign workers were responsible for it.

"Everybody knows he's not a Communist. It's a parody site," Starling said.

Braxton said he just wants to see the site taken off the Web.

"I think it's just silly. It's unfortunate that people stoop to do things like that. I want to talk about the issues, like economic development, health care and the other issues important to the people. To call people Socialists -- that's just silly," he said.

To learn more about each District 10 House candidate and their beliefs, visit www.braxtonnchouse.comand www.willieray.com.