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IPOcracy.com allows anyone to give Gore and Bush a cynical run for their money.

The Election's All About You, Baby

November 06, 2000|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just can't get excited about the presidential candidates?

Even with the election Tuesday, there's still time to run yourself.

IPOcracy.com, a free, tongue-in-chic Web site, will launch your candidacy. With just the click of the mouse, you can tailor your image, choose your pet issues and locate your place on the political spectrum (from left-liberal to Christian right).

IPOcracy.com will even send campaign e-mailers to your "constituents" and prepare your personal television political advertisement. You can upload a photograph onto your very own "me for president" propaganda, or choose from an image gallery of everything from '40s glamour shots to dour-looking bureaucrats. It will create press coverage, blurbs from people like Rush Limbaugh, and will then advertise your obligatory memoir.

If your pitch falls flat, you can instantly reinvent your platform. "If you've been ethical thus far, then by all means, try selling out," recommend the site's co-creators--a pair of highly successful dot-commers named Peter Hirshberg and Michael Markman.

Selling out is easy, thanks to the site's Influence Exchange, or INFEX--also known as ePork--which calls itself "the nation's smoke-filled back room" of political wheeling and dealing. Here the nation's government is sold as an IPO, and you have the power to choose which big-money interest you sell your soul to.

"Soft money that carries a big stick," promises one "sponsor." "We're emptying wallets to make room for you in our pockets," whispers a willing supplicant.

The merry pranksters behind the spoof are both veterans of Apple Computers, where Hirshberg ran enterprise marketing and Markman headed worldwide advertising. Adding some heft to the site is a link to Common Cause, the Washington campaign finance reform group. And in a novel architectural cameo, new wave architect Frank Gehry contributed the design for the site's simulated INFEX building.

"I'm interested in politics and the dearth of good candidates and good ideas and the way the political system grows impoverished over time," Gehry said. "Good stuff gets pulled apart."

Hirshberg says the site is meant to encourage "everyone to run for president and experience the rapture of selling out. . . . We want to take influence-peddling out of the back rooms and the Buddhist temples and make it available to everyone."

The idea was conceived last year, during the Internet stock run-up, when valuations for anything.com had soared to record heights, unleashing an entire generation of paper millionaires.

"We said, 'What would it be like if you could sell the government out to the people?' " Markman recalled. "Huge valuations were being awarded based on an unproven idea. So we thought that if a dot-com is worth that much, imagine how much the government is worth."

The site hosts a satirical guide to political insider trading. Those who wonder what influence is trading at need only check the INFEX board. The value of Republican backing is down $5, at $92. Democratic backing is off $8, at $88. A ticker tape reminds traders that there are 29,970 lobbyists exerting their influence at this very moment.

You can even run for president under an alias. Some visitors have launched campaigns for retro American politicians (Huey Long, "A demagogue with results") and deceased despots (Adolf Hitler, "A German dictator with results").

Someone ran President Clinton. Al Gore has been run ("A big government liberal with a mental disorder"), and several campaigns have been launched for George W. Bush ("An intellectual midget with results" and "The future is out there and so is George"). Somebody ran a George "Bushleague."

"We can do in 10 minutes with jokes what people use expensive media campaigns to create," Markman said.

It's not the first time Hirshberg and Markman have teamed up to use high technology for satire's sake. Their last Web farce, Elementalism.com, unveiled in February 1999, allowed Web visitors to create their own religion.

The high-tech playfulness behind IPOcracy is not all fun and games. After Elementalism.com was unveiled at the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in February 1999, its creator, Elemental Software--of which Hirshberg was founder and chief executive--was acquired by Macromedia for tens of millions of dollars, he said. And since the unveiling of IPOcracy, "we have been approached by people who have been creating Web-based entertainment," Hirshberg said.

Even if it is acquired, IPOcracy isn't going anywhere after Tuesday's election, Hirshberg said. It will simply turn to other elections and new outrages in the free-flowing conduit between big money and politics.

And visitors can still run for office. Because there's always a new opportunity to sell out.

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