Last year Richard and Mary Hartman had a home computer and only a lukewarm interest in politics.
Now, after leading an Internet campaign that helped defeat House Speaker Tom Foley, the Spokane couple is being touted as national experts on cyberspace politics.
They get offers to write books, give seminars and distill their insights for technologically savvy political candidates.
Last week, the Hartmans spent three days speaking at a Washington, D.C., conference on the use of the Internet in political campaigns.
Returning to his job as an engineer at a Spokane high-tech company, Hartman said he was amazed at the level of interest in what he and his wife had done.
“People there at the conference said to us, basically, ‘You are the experts on cyberspace politics,”’ said Richard Hartman.
Many at the conference, sponsored by the American Association of Political Consultants, asked them to write a book explaining how they organized the effort called De-Foley-Ate Congress.
That group roamed the Internet, asking for money and urging others to oppose Foley because of his stands on term limits, gun control and porkbarrel spending.
De-Foley-Ate Congress raised $27,000 for the November election. Using standard campaign tactics on the Internet, the Hartmans reached thousands of people and won the attention of the national media.
The attention flatters them, but the Hartmans said they’re uncomfortable in the role of technology gurus.
Before last fall, neither Richard nor Mary had any real experience with politics.
They were not even experts on using the Internet, the network of computers that links millions of people across the globe.
Now they’re meeting people who expect the Hartmans to announce the death of traditional media like newspapers and TV.
“People at the conference (last week) asked me how we could get rid of the ‘old-fashioned’ media,”’ said Richard Hartman.
“I told them they ignore the oldfashioned media at their own peril. What I tried to say was the Internet is another channel, an additional way to reach people.”
Conference organizers described De-Foley-Ate Congress as the first formally organized Internet political action committee.
In reality, it was a computer version of the old telephone tree. The Hartmans and a few others in Spokane sent e-mail messages about Foley and their campaign to a number of recipients. Those people would transmit them to several others, and they, in turn, would send them to a number of publicly accessible computer files, called discussion groups, on the Internet.
The Hartmans became involved in the anti-Foley campaign shortly before last fall’s primary. Richard Hartman posted a message about politics in a computer discussion group, then received a number of messages from others across the country, urging him to work against Foley’s re-election.
As that discussion continued, a number of people asked the Hartmans where they might send contributions to help defeat Foley.
That pushed them from observers to organizers.
De-Foley-Ate spent the $27,000 raised from outside Eastern Washington on radio ads and printing. No money went to the campaign of Foley’s opponent George Nethercutt.
The group’s other success, in the Hartmans’ minds, was the discovery of two items probably harmful to Foley late in the campaign. Both came to them by computer users in other parts of the country.
One was a detailed appraisal of Foley’s Washington, D.C., home, valued in excess of $600,000. “That helped undercut his claims that he was modestly living in Spokane in a $30,000 apartment,” said Richard Hartman.
The second was a copy of a brief filed by Foley after he and others sued the state of Washington to repeal a voter-approved term limits law.
Richard Hartman said the memo contradicted statements made by Foley in explaining why he joined the suit.
The De-Foley-Ate Internet campaign was successful because the Foley-Nethercutt race generated widespread interest, said Washington, D.C., political consultant Phil Noble.
“I think the Hartmans took good advantage of the Internet, but they were also in the right place at the right time,” said Noble, who also participated at last week’s conference.
“They found a new way to pursue the same thing we do - getting people to make up their minds in favor of your candidate,” he said.