Drew Curtis famously named his website “Fark” for no reason, but the "Internet famous" news aggregator put some serious thought into his decision to run for governor of Kentucky. In fact Curtis, who has no experience in office, is betting that by running an independent campaign and tapping into a frustrated electorate, he’ll start 2016 in the governor’s mansion.
Curtis, 41, started Fark.com in 1999, steadily building a massive community of fans by linking to news stories on a range of issues but replacing the actual headline with often sarcastic headlines. Hundreds of links appear daily, driving huge amounts of Web traffic to news articles about, for instance, fracking being partially to blame for earthquakes.
Fark headline: USGS announces Oklahoma’s earthquakes caused by wastewater injection, clears shakeweight users.
Curtis has since used his status as a minor celebrity to criticize the media’s willingness to dive into the gutter, to take on patent trolls and now to try to fix the state of politics from the inside.
“Like most everyone else I’m pretty dissatisfied with the quality of government we have, and so I’m doing something about it,” Curtis said, in an email. “I'm sort of suited for it as well - I'm an extrovert, I like travel, I understand media and media coverage, I'm Internet Famous, which is a decent start, and so on. I also think I can run for office without having to actually become a politician myself - which is why I'm only after one term.”
When he first announced his candidacy last month during an interview with the Lexington Business Journal Curtis said the idea was born after a friend was unable to contact her local representative. That led him to believe public servants are too indebted to their campaign donors to be responsible to the actual public. He said his platform largely boils down to “No experiments. Leave people alone. And don’t spend money you don’t have.”
It’s too early to tell if the Lexington native actually has a chance, but Curtis is running as an Independent in an election to succeed Democrat Steve Beshear, whose enjoyed a high popularity rating through his two-terms. A poll released earlier this month suggested that it will be a tight GOP primary, with Attorney General Jack Conway expected to take the Democratic nomination. Curtis is will run with his wife, Heather, as a running mate.
“One of the reasons I’m jumping into this race is I think we’re about to experience a national-level disruption in politics,” he said, adding that the Fark community has already been more supportive than he expected.
“Community building is a huge strength but I also have a deep understanding of how technology works. For example, I think it would be great to run textual analysis algorithms on pending legislation that could tell us if the bill's sponsor actually wrote the bill or if it came from somewhere else? Or instead of having to file open records requests, what if we just put public documents online the moment they're filed?”
But swearing off corporate campaign donations, he’s done, creates huge logistical questions for Curtis. He’s trying to mobilize Kentucky voters on social media, encouraging them to donate $5 if they’re considering cast a ballot for the Curtis ticket.
If the strategy to crowdfund a candidate who supports campaign finance reform sounds familiar, that’s not an accident. Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and activist, has been outspoken in his advocacy for campaign finance reform, going so far as to organize the Mayday Super PAC, which raises money on behalf of congressional candidates who make it a priority to end Super PACs.
Curtis was on hand when Lessig gave his first TED talk on the issue in 2013 and now cites the 16:00 minute pledge to rid Washington of corruption as a major point in his own life.
“It blew me away for a couple reasons: I had no idea how actually bad the situation was and he offered some ideas for solutions,” Curtis said. “My additional idea contribution is - if you have an unaligned governor who can't be bought, then that should mean that influence money spending on the state legislature might grind to a halt as well. That'd be pretty interesting.”
And Mayday has noticed Curtis, too. Szelena Gray, COO of Mayday, said the group is “thrilled to see people take the reins in politics, especially people who understand how change can be made.” As governor, though, Curtis would be powerless to help Congress pass federal laws that secure campaign finance reform.
“Our mandate and our mission is to continue working at the federal level,” Gray said, though she suggested Curtis and other tech-intellectuals can change the current model of campaigning, thus achieving the same end Mayday is aiming for.
“We see a clear opportunity to move grassroots resources and close the gap between reformers and the status quo,” she said.