In the digital world, email is the other primary way of communicating with constituents. Your domain name impacts the way your email looks in a person’s inbox, so consider whether it may be worth acquiring a domain to use as your email extension.

Defending your online reputation

Recently, we’ve seen high-profile politicians like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich run up against time-consuming and costly domain name disputes. While it is impossible to register every domain name that could be used to show you in a negative light, it’s easy enough to register the most obvious ones capable of damaging your image—such as IHateYourName.com, YourNameSucks.com, or DontVoteForYourName.com—which may also be the most difficult to prevent legally. While creating a domain around your name that then features negative content about you may seem like defamation, the Constitution and intellectual property laws allow your opponents to make “fair use” of your name if you’re a politician or current lawmaker, so be sure to protect yourself.

If you find that your name is being used for impermissible content such as adult content or Internet scams, that’s another issue entirely. In this case, you may be able to either file a Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) complaint with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in order to gain control of the domain name for yourself, or recover the domain and seek monetary damages as a result of the Anti-Cybersquatting Protection Act.

Maintaining your domains

Once you’ve secured your domains, protecting and maintaining them in the long-term is not to be taken lightly. Be sure your domains are registered in either the name of the candidate or the campaign, and not just to the staffer who submitted the registration. User names and passwords should only be given to responsible and reliable staff members, and the candidate should insist on copies of your registration information and credentials.

Letting a domain’s registration lapse releases it back to the public, so delegating that responsibility to a trustworthy staff member is vital. Reliable registrars will also allow you to auto-renew your domain registration, or secure it for a number of years (often up to 10).

Lastly, alternate Top Level Domains (TLDs) such as .net, .org, .co, or .us are important to consider adding to your portfolio. More recently, ICANN began accepting applications for new gTLDs—generic Top Level Domain extensions such as .bank, .jobs or .politics. These gTLDs are expected to begin winning approval in late 2012.

While the success of the new gTLDs will largely depend on how each registry is managed, politicians should keep an eye out for any relevant new extensions that may require attention for defensive registrations or benefit your domain portfolio. The domain industry is constantly evolving, so understanding it and taking advantage of that knowledge will keep your campaign on solid footing.

Jeremiah Johnston has served as general counsel at Sedo (www.sedo.com) since 2004 and represents the company as a founding member of the Internet Commerce Association (ICA).