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Eugene Weekly : News : 10.21.10

Buying the Race

Shadowy campaign finances and shady science

By Camilla Mortensen

Is it a tempest in a tea bag? The Peter DeFazio ­ Art Robinson contest for the 4th District congressional seat has gone from a sleeper race to one making national headlines. The district, which includes Lane, Coos, Curry, Douglas and Linn counties, as well as most of Benton and Josephine counties, is an odd mix of rural and urban voters, conservatives, liberals and libertarians. The race recently made the Rachel Maddow Show and the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

DeFazio chats with Eugene press Oct. 19. Photo by Trask Bedortha

DeFazio, whose buck-the-trend ways have earned the respect of his constituents, hasn’t faced a true challenge for his seat in years. Polling data from the 2008 race showed challenger Jaynee Germond at 13 percent to DeFazio’s 82 percent. “I’ve made it look easy,” says DeFazio of his district. “It’s not easy.”

But in this year’s race, Robinson and the money behind him from the Concerned Taxpayers of America (CTA) seem to be banking on the idea that the Tea Party politics and anti-incumbent sentiment that has come to the fore in other states might sway Oregon voters.

DeFazio says it’s odd that Robinson’s campaign put a quarter of a million dollars into thousands of lawn signs and car magnets early on in the race, at a time most candidates would have been putting funds into political ads. Then CTA came out of nowhere to fund the political ads. 

 It appears Robinson had plans to buy the race from the beginning. A letter from Rob Taylor, Jaynee Germond’s campaign manager (Germond was DeFazio’s opponent in 2008, and Robinson’s challenger in the Republican primary) recounts a meeting between Germond and Robinson in March. Robinson allegedly told Germond he was willing to spend a quarter million dollars in the primary to defeat her and “I will send out an email to all my connections and raise enough money to pay for this election. This is how I support my institution (the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine) and this is how I plan to raise enough money to win.” 

Taylor writes that he found Robinson to be “belittling with a misogynist demeanor towards Ms. Germond.” Germond has been popular with the Libertarian voters Robinson seeks support from.

It was recently revealed that the Concerned Taxpayers group funding Robinson, in addition to the out-of-state cash raised by OISM supporters, is more of a singular taxpayer who would perhaps like to keep paying less taxes. Bob Mercer, the co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies LLC, is funding the CTA ads against DeFazio. 

Renaissance, which The Wall Street Journal has called “one of the most successful hedge-fund companies ever,”  uses high-speed computers and intricate math algorithms to manipulate the market. The computers make billions of transactions in one day, holding onto some assets for only a few milliseconds. Firms like Renaissance have been blamed for the kind of market speculation that ruins pensions and economies. 

Mercer has spent $300,000 through CTA, and it looks like he’s willing to throw a half million dollars of his out-of-state money into the race. “It’s a great investment for him if he can buy Art Robinson a seat in Congress,” says DeFazio. “It’s chump change.” DeFazio has called for a tax on securities trades and is known for “defending Main Street from Wall Street.” 

DeFazio has been pointing to statements in articles written and approved by Robinson, in his newsletter Access to Energy and on his website, that make controversial calls to add nuclear radiation to Oregon’s drinking water, stop funding public education and drastically reduce regulation of industries. The CTA ads have been less based in reality. According to DeFazio’s campaign, the ads are so baseless that local television station KEZI has stopped running them.

James Simons, described in The Wall Street Journal as “a secretive mathematician and Cold War code breaker,” founded Mercer’s hedge fund company. Robinson, too, was a Cold War scientist and maintains books on his website featuring information on nuclear war survival skills and homeland defense.

While Robinson has a Ph.D. and calls himself “professor” — he has not taught at an actual university since resigning has position at UC San Diego in 1972 — some scholars are more dubious about his science. 

Robinson and his son Noah have published repeatedly on “deamidation of asparaginyl and glutaminyl residues in peptides and proteins.” 

John Moseley, professor emeritus of physics and UO senior vice president and provost, says, “I don’t necessarily criticize his work in deamidation but I do think that some of his other scientific ideas are not credible.”

Moseley, whose own field is in atomic and molecular physics and deals with atmospheric issues, says Robinson is “certainly not an expert” on climate or atmospheric physics. 

UO emeritus professor of molecular biology Frank Stahl says of Robinson’s work on deamidation, “I find that so boring I couldn’t bring myself to read it.” He says he’s more concerned with Robinson’s stances on global warming and evolution. Robinson is the author of a climate change-denying petition and a signatory on a petition questioning Darwinian evolution. Stahl points out that certain industry supporters have a vested interest in supporting someone who denies human-caused climate change. And as for Robinson’s stance on evolution, particularly in relation to the home schooling curriculum Robinson sells on the internet: “If he puts it in the education books, I’ve no sympathy with him as a scientist.”