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Joe Miller website a for-profit platform for conservative news -- and boosts his Senate campaign

Nathaniel Herz

Joe Miller, the right-wing Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, says he has turned over day-to-day operations of his for-profit website to his daughter, but joemiller.us still churns out a reliable supply of conservative news — and at least one advertiser says it’s a great investment.

The site, Restoring Liberty, is what Miller recently referred to at a debate as a successful small business, with his campaign reporting $15,500 in income in its most recent annual financial disclosure. But it also offers Miller advantages as a candidate, with the site and its email newsletter serving as a platform for press releases, videos and fundraising efforts for his campaign.

Miller, the sole owner of the site, even affixes his image to the bottom of each post, accompanied by a short biography that describes him as a current Senate candidate and a “decorated combat veteran” from the first Gulf War.

Miller, who’s running against three other Republicans in the party’s Aug. 19 primary, simply describes the site as a conservative alternative to Alaska’s other media outlets, which he says are controlled by Outsiders and can be biased.

“We want to make sure there’s a dialogue on topics sometimes, which I think are omitted by the mainstream,” Miller said in a phone interview. “I think the public is very benefited any time they have other outlets they can go to that aren’t Outside controlled, that offer conservative content.”

Miller touts Restoring Liberty as having at times been ranked among the top 50 conservative sites in the nation, with traffic reaching 350,000 hits in a single day at its peak. Alexa, a firm that tracks web traffic, said it does not provide estimates of visitors or page views for the site, but referred to statistics that show joemiller.us ranks among the top 36,000 websites in the United States.

Miller said the site originated around 2011; a previous iteration was his official campaign page, which featured press releases and an endorsement from Sarah Palin, according to an online archive.

The current version serves up a steady stream of aggregated news stories from the right wing, with pages that include the first four or five paragraphs of a story from another outlet followed by a link back to the original source.

Monday’s top story was a link to a Hollywood Reporter piece with the headline “Jon Voight Lashes Out Against Obama In Lengthy Televised Statement.” Others included “More Than Two Thirds of Americans Think Elections Are Rigged for Incumbents” and “Advisor: Obama, NSA Use Internet to Silence Critics Like Tea Party (+video).”

There are sections called “Kathleen’s Korner,” with a banner photo of Miller’s wife, as well as “Joe’s Desk,” which has pieces by Miller himself —  though that page has been updated only once since March, with a June 1 post about Memorial Day.

More frequently, Miller shows up in press releases from and posts about his campaign, which are sometimes distributed along with the aggregated stories in the site’s daily newsletter.

There’s also a large advertisement on the Restoring Liberty homepage for Miller’s official campaign site, JoeForLiberty.com. A Facebook link connects to the campaign’s profile page, and a “Donate” link at the top right brings readers to a fundraising page for Citizens for Joe Miller, which is the name of Miller’s registered campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission.

The FEC has rules and limits that apply to the relationships between businesses and campaigns, and the way that contributions or donations of services are reported, but Miller said his campaign is in full compliance.

He referred questions on compliance to a campaign spokesman, Randy DeSoto, who said the advertisement for Miller’s campaign site on Restoring Liberty first appeared in June and will be reported as an in-kind contribution.

Since putting his campaign back into full gear after his failed bid for U.S. Senate in 2010, Miller says, he hasn’t been involved in Restoring Liberty’s daily operations, which have been turned over to his daughter Katy.

Miller referred questions about the site’s editorial decisions to his daughter; DeSoto said in an email that she “would prefer to stay out of the public eye” and asked Alaska Dispatch News to respect her privacy.

Before the campaign went back into high gear, though, Miller said he spent an “enormous amount of time” on the site, adding that it had “tremendous influence.”

Taylor Bickford, an Anchorage-based political consultant, said in an email that he sees Restoring Liberty as a way for Miller to engage with his far-right followers — though he added he’s not sure anyone outside of Miller’s inner circle “views it as a legitimate source of news.”

“Joe has an extremely energetic base of support, and the website gives him a way of engaging with them on a day-to-day basis,” said Bickford, a Republican political consultant in Anchorage who is not working with any of the Senate candidates. “Joe understands that his voters are hungry for ideological red meat, so he uses the website to deliver a steady diet of sensationalized headlines about issues that matter to them. It makes a voter more likely to donate their time or money to the cause.”

For at least one advertiser, the site is also an effective way of connecting with a valuable demographic: conservative men and women between the ages of 35 and 65.

Walter Campbell, who handles advertising for Arctic Chiropractic, said promoting his business in Restoring Liberty gives him access to people who are a little older and consequently more in need of his chiropractic care — not to mention that as conservatives, they tend to have higher incomes.

“These people tend to be more reliable consumers of the product that we offer,” said Campbell, who estimated that he’d paid $3,000 for the ad, which Miller pitched himself.

The price for the ad, which appears as a button on the right side of the Restoring Liberty site, was low, Campbell added. And he said it had outperformed his other advertisements on the websites of television stations KTUU and KTVA.

“This was killing ’em, and the rate was just phenomenally good,” Campbell said. “I’ve heard a ton of people have seen us there, so I’ll probably renew and do another year.”

Campbell said his political beliefs tend toward libertarianism, and that he helped with Miller in his last campaign. But his ad buys, he added, “are business first.”

Other websites that advertise on Restoring Liberty include an Anchorage construction company, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Fairbanks, as well as a dental business there run by David Eichler, a dentist and former nominee to the Alaska Public Offices Commission who withdrew his name from consideration in 2012 after questions surfaced about comments he made about Alaska Natives that were widely criticized as racist.

There are also some advertisements generated by Google, Miller said, some of which he does not always like.

On Monday, one of those ads promoted an event from which Miller will almost certainly be absent: a night of food, drink and music at Netroots Nation in Detroit. That’s a conference for progressive activists; the event there is sponsored in part by Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that’s laying the groundwork for Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016.