BOZEMAN, Mont. - Fake campaign websites made to look like the real thing are gaining national attention. We found one of those websites was made for a candidate right here in Montana.
John Lewis is a Democrat running for Montana's lone congressional seat. CNN spoke to Lewis last week to get his opinion on the the websites. Lewis told them "Montanans know what I stand for and they are going to see right through a website that is based on deception."
We wanted to find out how these websites work and how many there are out there. Tyler Houlton is the spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"This is all so standard practice, if you were going to run for office you should buy up every URL that has your name in it. They are very cheap, but a lot of candidates are not ready for prime time and they forget to do it," said Houlton.
We found the URL johnlewis4congress.com. It's a website made to look like the real thing, but really it is just a campaign tactic. Houlton tells us Lewis is just one of several Democratic candidates these websites were made for.
Bob Funk, John Lewis' Deputy Campaign Manager released the following statement in regards to these fake websites, "Montanans deserve better than this, which is why Lewis is running for Congress. Fake websites to trick voters is an assault on Montana values and our democracy - clearly a sign that outside special interests are threatened by the strong grassroots momentum Lewis has built by meeting with folks in all 56 counties across the state."
"More than a dozen, there is between 12 and 20 somewhere in there," said Houlton.
We found some of those sites -- they also look like the real deal. For example, Sean Eldridge for Congress 2014, running in New York, and ronbarber2014.com, running in Arizona.
"The point is really to educate voters about the issues. It has been widely noted that Republicans are behind Democrats on the digital front, Internet, things like that and I think it's starting to change. I think Republicans are starting to gain the upper hand with everything we are doing digitally," said Houlton.
Houlton admits there has been pushback from the other side.
"Democrats are not happy about this, because they think they are misleading, but all you do is read it -- and voters are very capable of doing that -- to know these websites are clearly paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee," said Houlton.
We showed the website made for Lewis to some local voters, giving each person a few minutes to look it over. While they didn't agree on the site, they did share how they felt about the new campaign tactic.
"I don't necessarily agree with all the ways that people raise money for campaigns, especially kind of like a generic 'donate to my website,'" said Sarah Gracey.
"I don't think its right, but I think it is clever. You are fighting fire with fire instead of bettering yourself to do so," said Jaz Lokken.