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Outside Group Makes OR-4 Race Competitive

Outside Group Makes OR-4 Race Competitive

By Scott Conroy - October 31, 2010


EUGENE, Ore. -- When Republican Art Robinson began to ramp up his campaign against 12-term Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio early last summer, the incumbent's staffers told their boss not to worry. After all, DeFazio had won a whopping 82 percent of the vote in this southwest Oregon district in 2008, and Robinson - a scientist and political novice - was largely unknown in the district and was spending most of his campaign's war chest on lawn signs.

"I said, ‘Well there may be a logical explanation for that, and that is that somebody else is going to pay for his media,'" DeFazio told RealClearPolitics.

By September, DeFazio's concerns were validated as an outside group called Concerned Taxpayers of America began an advertising blitz in the district targeting the Democrat.

The group's ads gained national attention and became emblematic of the leeway granted to corporations in the Supreme Court's Citizens United Decision. It was not until mid-October that disclosure records revealed that the group was funded by just two parties - a concrete firm in Maryland called Daniel G. Schuster Inc., which contributed $300,000, and a New York hedge fund executive named Robert Mercer who donated $200,000 to the group, which is only targeting DeFazio and Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil.

"That is the factor of this race - this outside spending from one guy in Wall Street for whatever the reason," DeFazio said, noting that he cosponsored legislation to boost taxes on hedge fund operators. "Mr. Mercer, like all hedge fund managers, has a lot of reasons to hate me on policy. I think he should pay the same percent of income on his taxes than people who earn the same as he does, but he gets to pay half or less than half."

DeFazio added that the ads have also had some benefit, as his internal polling showed that his supporters went from having low energy to very high energy in a three week period.

"So yeah, they hurt me; on the other hand, they've energized my voters who don't like that one billionaire from Wall Street who's never been to Oregon is trying to buy his friend a seat in Congress," DeFazio said.

Robinson, who spoke to RealClearPolitics while waving signs along with volunteers here on Friday, countered that DeFazio has received his own special interest money from Washington and said that Mercer was a subscriber to his monthly newsletter, which has espoused Robinson's free-market principles, critical take on the public education system and denial of man-made global warming.

"I can't say thank you until November 3," Robinson said of Mercer, one of his newsletter's approximately 3,000 subscribers. "I will definitely say thank you then."

A chemist by training, Robinson started gaining attention for his global warming views when he was asked to write an editorial for The Wall Street Journal on the subject 12 years ago, and he has since made the transition from skeptic to denier of man-made global warming.

"I'm convinced now that there's overwhelming evidence the hypothesis is wrong," Robinson said of the belief that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is causing the planet to warm. "There's one big environmental effect - it fertilizes plants, and there's a huge increase in plants and animals due to this thing... It's a good thing, in my view. When you get more plants, you also get more diversity. The animal and plant kingdom has become far more lush because of that CO2."

DeFazio is dismissive of Robinson's global warming views but has not made them a focal point of his attacks. Instead, the Democrat has zeroed in on Robinson's critical statements about the public education system.

"We can find more than a dozen times over 15 years when in the most mean-spirited way possible, he has trashed public education, called for abolishing it, called for ending all taxpayer support - that is local, state, or federal for education - and says the free market in six months would derive a better educational system in America," DeFazio said. "He's been clear: abolish public education, and in another place in his newsletter, he said within six months of ending all government support for public education, the free market would provide better educational opportunities to all Americans. Now that's pretty darn crazy."

Robinson countered that he has been an educator his whole life and received a public school education in the 1950s.

"Ronald Reagan said to get the government out of it and send it to local control; that's my policy," Robinson said. "So DeFazio wants to say he's running so he can get rid of the public schools. That's crazy. First of all, how could you get rid of the public schools? It would take a nuclear war, it's silly. But you can improve it, and you can get mad."

Robinson said that Congress could benefit from more scientists like himself.

"I'm not telling you that I know a lot about all of the important issues - nobody does - and you don't want the whole body full of scientists," he said. "I think scientists bring two special things. One, they're problem solvers, but the other thing they bring is the knowledge of what they don't know. Any good scientist has tremendous humility because he knows how little he knows. That means if an issue comes up, he seeks to learn about it, instead of asking around which way the political wind is blowing."

But DeFazio is telling voters not to buy Robinson's pitch that he is a moderate Republican. For Halloween, the congressman plans to dress up as a mad scientist.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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