Aides to Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) got a bit of a shock last Saturday when they logged onto the website of Maria Cantwell, one of Gorton’s Democratic challengers, and saw a goofy photo of their boss posing with “Buster the Salmon,” a costumed protestor who dogs Gorton at campaign events over his refusal to support dam breaching on the lower Snake River.

Buster and Slade. (Yes, we too stole this photo!)

Turns out that Cantwell’s campaign webmaster, John Beezer, had been trolling for unflattering pictures of Gorton last Friday afternoon and found the “Buster the Salmon” picture on Gorton’s website. (The senator has taken a shine to Buster despite their policy differences, and on a recent bus tour Gorton made a beeline for him and demanded a photo be taken of the two, according to Gorton spokesperson Cynthia Bergman.) Beezer liked the photo and quickly linked to it in such a way that a live copy of it would appear on the Cantwell site.

Not to be outdone, the Gorton web team changed the image on their page to show happy groups of Gorton supporters, which then appeared on the Cantwell site for a number of hours along with this message: “The reason you are seeing this is because Cantwell’s team used a picture from Slade’s website without the permission of Slade’s campaign, violating our intellectual property.”

Beezer and the Cantwell campaign scoffed at the charges of hacking and intellectual property theft on Tuesday and said that this type of linking is standard practice.

As for the return fire from Gorton, Beezer laughed. “It was pretty funny,” he said, adding that he “didn’t think anyone would be paying attention” to what he did with the Buster photo, a notion he was quickly disabused of as his phone rang off the hook with press calls on Tuesday.

To back up their argument that lifting the “Buster the Salmon” photo onto their site did not violate any laws, the Cantwell campaign released this statement from Robert Lind of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles: “Providing a link, during a political campaign, to the URL address of a specific page in a political candidate’s Web site does not violate any intellectual property rights of the candidate or his campaign organization. By placing a photograph on a Web site that is accessible to the general public, the candidate has authorized the viewing of that page by anyone who may access it, regardless of the route a member of the public may have taken to arrive at that web page.”

That didn’t satisfy the Gorton team, who pointed out that Cantwell, formerly an executive with the software firm RealNetworks, has made Internet privacy a signature issue in her campaign. “This is an interesting first salvo from the high-tech candidate,” said Bergman. (Gorton’s website recounts his version of the incident.)

Feeling the Heat?

Vice President Al Gore has been ratcheting up the enviro announcements recently, leading some green group staffers to surmise that he’s starting to feel a little heat on the left flank from consumer activist and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who continues to score well in polls, particularly on the West coast.

Gore’s latest move came at the beginning of his “progress and prosperity tour” on Tuesday when he proposed a National Energy Security and Environment Trust Fund to help clean up the nation’s oldest and dirtiest power plants. The move elicited praise from National Environmental Trust President Phil Clapp, who called it “the first serious proposal to reduce global warming pollution” and “the most significant plan conceived to date to reduce the massive damage to the health of the nation’s children and to the environment caused by these plants.”

And what of the threat from Nader? One green wag said it’s much ado about nothing: “I’m looking at Nader and thinking, right, like he could get anything done. Being a purist doesn’t get you anywhere.” (Thoughts on that statement? Email ‘em to muckraker@gristmagazine.com.)

News Roundup

Is diazinon the next pesticide headed for banishment by the EPA? So says Laura Chapin of the Environmental Working Group, who helped run the press effort leading up to EPA’s decision to ban many uses of the pesticide Dursban. Chapin and other enviros say diazinon is just as damaging an organophosphate as Dursban and there is no reason to think the EPA won’t ban it as well. … It’s been a rough few days for Internet journos. First APBnews.com laid off its entire staff, then Salon.com announced a series of job cuts, and now it appears that the enviro site Verde.com, backed in part by Ted Turner family money, will shut its doors as of today.

Coming Soon to a Screen Near You …

Savvy Muck readers noticed that our nationwide political tour took a giant leap across the nation’s midsection in the last column, jumping from the Southwest to the Mid-Atlantic without explanation.

Never fear. We have not forgotten about the importance of heartland America. To make amends for our geographically scattershot approach, we will bring you a political twofer in the next column, hitting the highlights in both the Midwest and the Great Plains.