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Web Design Firm Draws Democrats’ Gripes

A D.C.-based Internet marketing firm that ran into problems earlier this year with a design pitch giving the impression that the company had done work for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is once again raising eyebrows in Democratic offices.

Pelosi’s office had protested to the company that they had never worked with the firm. But within the past week, sources said Rightclick Strategies made a presentation to the office of Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) in which company representatives displayed Web site designs to staffers that supposedly had been done for other Democratic offices, including that of Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.).

“In a presentation to Obey’s office they said they had done some work for us,” Menendez spokesman Matt Miller said. “They have never worked for us. … We have informed other offices that we haven’t done any work with them.”

“We had been informed by a couple Member offices that this company had been representing that they had designed certain Member Web sites and that’s not the case,” Pelosi’s spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said.

Larry Purpuro, founder of Rightclick Strategies — which touts itself as one of the leading Web design companies used on Capitol Hill — said that he couldn’t speak to the specific Obey presentation but he did say that “our guys are up there … they visit five to 15 offices a week. We have done hundreds of designs, designs for Members that did not engage us but that were conceptual designs.”

Purpuro, who is a former deputy chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, added that “it’s difficult for me to respond to accusations based on hearsay and I’m somewhat suspicious of their origin given my visibility as a Republican and the large amount of work we have done for GOP Members.”

But a few of the company’s conceptual designs have concerned some Members in the past.

Earlier this year, the offices of Pelosi and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) objected to the use of images of the two Members being used in an advertising campaign by American Digital Campaigns, a subsidiary of Rightclick Strategies. At that time, the two offices had asked the Office of the General Counsel to investigate the matter

“They had said they had created a Web site for our office and that was not true,” Crider said of the February incident.

“We did put out a marketing sheet where we used an illustration of Nancy Pelosi simply because she was the Democratic leader,” Purpuro explained. “We did that in a mailing and we were told to refrain from doing it.”

Purpuro said the company thought it had disposed of all the mailing sheets that included references to Pelosi but that when a second mailing went out in mid-February, a few of the old sheets were inadvertently included. In a February 15 letter addressed to Pelosi’s office, Jeff Mascott, a Web strategist for Rightclick Strategies and former internet consultant to the House Republican Conference, said that “material which depicted Ms. Pelosi in a sample web design” had “unfortunately” been distributed to some Hill offices due to an error by a member of the company’s marketing staff.

“Please know that all of this product information has since been removed from our inventory and we can assure you that no such mailings will be undertaken in the future,” Mascott wrote.

But Purpuro was later sent a letter on February 23 from the General Counsel’s Office directing him to “immediately cease and desist from distributing any advertising that uses the names or images of Representatives Pelosi or Kucinich.”

That letter went on to ask that American Digital Campaigns “refrain in the future from (1) using the name, image, or likeness of Representatives Pelosi or Kucinich (or any other Member of the House), without their express written authorization; and (2) falsely or misleadingly representing, suggesting, or implying that Representatives Pelosi or Kucinich (or any other Member of the House) uses or endorses ADC’s services.”

“I know for a fact that there has been no other marketing e-mail or printed mail of any sort with the Minority Leader’s image on there,” Purpuro said.

Last summer, another Web site flap also involved Rightclick Strategies. At that time, wording on Rep. John Boozman’s (R-Ark.) Web site — including the statement that “sportsmen, hunters, gun enthusiasts and citizens concerned for their personal safety have a right to own guns for these legitimate purposes, and I am committed to fighting for these rights for the constituents of the 3rd District of Arkansas” — also appeared verbatim on Texas Rep. Pete Sessions (R) Web site.

A Sessions spokeswoman blamed the mixup on the fact that the two offices had the same Web developer, Rightclick Strategies, and apparently the company had “left some other people’s stuff” on Session’s Web site. Rightclick Strategies neither confirmed nor denied its culpability in the incident.