Hildreth alleges campaign sabotage

by Colin Barry and Steven Orbuch | 5/4/04 5:00am

In a scandal that may rock Dartmouth's neck-and-neck race for Student Body President, a close friend of candidate Julia Hildreth '05 has alleged a BlitzMail hacker broke into her account and sent fake endorsement messages for Hildreth to much of the College's senior class.

Rules set by the Election Planning and Advisory Committee prohibit mass-mailing, and some have speculated that an anonymous hacker has aimed to turn senior opinion against Hildreth or have Hildreth censured by EPAC.

While EPAC officials were still investigating the incident Monday night, EPAC co-chair Stephanie Long '04 said the election might be scrapped later if the incident is linked to a specific candidate's supporters.

Hildreth's friend and supporter Stella Treas '05 said she was checking her mail using the Netblitz computer program at around 8 p.m. Monday night when she received a warning that someone else "was using my account at the same time." Treas, who is on an off-term in Washington, D.C., reportedly checked her sent messages folder to find that someone was in the process of sending BlitzMail messages to the Class of 2004, engaging in what she called a "tasteless campaign tactic."

The mass e-mails contained only a short message, unlike regular campaign messages that often include a statement of the candidate's platform. Additionally, recipient lists for the messages were not suppressed, making the violation of EPAC policy more evident to the casual observer. Treas said friends on campus later traced the Internet Protocol address from which messages were sent to a public BlitzMail terminal in Fairchild Hall.

The other candidates in the campus presidential race told The Dartmouth that no one from their campaign had sent the e-mail messages. Most expressed doubt that any candidate would approve of the presumed hacking, which could violate federal law as well as College policy.

"I think all of my competitors would want to run a fair race," candidate Ralph Davies '05 said.

Jim Baehr '05, whom polls showed to be running a close race with Hildreth and Davies, agreed.

"We've made a commitment to run the cleanest, most positive campaign and my supporters know that," Baehr said. "They would have never done this."

Hildreth herself expressed concern that seniors might be upset to receive apparent junk e-mail.

"People have been replying to the blitz from Stella, and it's clear that some of the recipients are upset about it," Hildreth said.

EPAC officials contacted Monday night said they hadn't come to any conclusions about the incident but were in the process of investigation.

"It's pretty clear that this is a big problem," Long said. "This is an unprecedented situation -- the incident flagrantly violated a lot of policies."

Although the election will continue as planned, Long allowed for the possibility that election results could be changed if one candidate's supporters were later found responsible for the messages.

"The election is not necessarily set in stone," Long said. "If the candidate who wins is the one who is found guilty of this, we'll clearly have to go back and look at the results of the election and make a decision based on that."

Pending a full inquiry by College officials, EPAC decided on Monday night to set some restrictions on Hildreth's campaign tactics to "equalize the field." Hildreth will not be allowed to print more posters or send campaign messages for the rest of the election.

"It has nothing to do with culpability or any wrongdoing, but we thought there would be a lot of name recognition from the messages sent [Monday] night," Long said.

Long also mentioned the possibility that Hildreth would gain a "sympathy vote" from the publicity surrounding the incident.

"We think a lot of people might see Julia in a pretty positive light," Long said.

EPAC will also send a BlitzMail message to the majority of the senior class with an advisory about the likely false nature of the messages sent on Monday night.

Both candidates and EPAC officials roundly condemned the messages.

"This campaign has been extremely competitive," Davies said, "but I think it's very unfortunate that it's been taken to this level. These obviously aren't the rules that I've been playing by."

Candidates expressed divergent opinions as to whether Hildreth's campaign would be helped or harmed by the mass-mailing controversy.

"It might skew votes in some way," candidate Dave Wolkoff '05 said. "They always say there's no such thing as bad publicity."

Davies said he saw the scandal as a possible set-back for Hildreth.

"I think it's very unfortunate for Julia because she's trying to run a campaign right now," Davies said.

In the 2002 elections, Hildreth was censured for negative BlitzMail messages sent out by one of her supporters, Lucas Nikkel '05. EPAC officials emphasized that this election's sanctions should in no way suggest that Hildreth is responsible for the BlitzMail messages.

"We don't want to paint Julia in a negative light," Long said.

Dark horse candidate Mike Valmonte '06 was unavailable for comment.