On March 25, the Washington Post reported that Oregon Republican congressional candidate Art Robinson hired Cambridge Analytica—the political data firm that allegedly harvested personal data from millions of Facebook users to boost the Trump campaign—during his 2014 campaign.

Robinson says that Cambridge Analytica aided his campaign, but didn't manage it.

Robinson's opponent and current U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) is challenging Robinson's assertion that Cambridge Analytica did not manage his campaign.

The distinction between whether the firm managed, or merely worked on, Robinson's campaign is important. The Washington Post report says that Cambridge Analytica may have employed non-U.S. citizens to work on American campaigns. Legally, foreign nationals are prohibited from participating directly in U.S. elections.

"A 2014 memo written by Cambridge Analytica about their support of Art Robinson discloses that they 'effectively managed the campaign in its entirety'," a statement released Wednesday by DeFazio's office reads.

DeFazio says the London-based company—which is financed by Wall Street mogul Robert Mercer and run, in part, by former Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon—managed Robinson's social media platforms, voter calling and canvassing, fundraising and media relations.

Art Robinson campaigns in 2008. (Art Robinson for Congress)
Art Robinson campaigns in 2008. (Art Robinson for Congress)

A key question in the dispute is the role of Mercer, the conservative mega-donor who runs one of the nation's largest hedge funds. 

In 2014, DeFazio advocated for the regulation of hedge funds. His statement Wednesday says that's why Mercer targeted him with a well-funded opponent. The statement says DeFazio is "one of the first members of Congress to be attacked by a Wall Street-backed super PAC."

DeFazio adds that the Mercer family has so far pumped $1.7 million into "Robinson's failed congressional campaigns," and that Mercer currently funds an institute run by Robinson—the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.

"In March 2017," DeFazio's statement reads, "after ensuring the election of Donald Trump, it was reported that the Mercer family suggested that Robinson be considered as Trump's National Science Advisor."

Much of the connection alluded to by DeFazio is well documented—including in this 2017 New Yorker story on Robert Mercer, which argued that the link was as much about shared right-wing ideology as it was about hedge-fund regulation.

Robinson confirmed that the Mercer family began funding his research institute around 10 years ago—before he began running for Congress—with a donation of $50,000. (The New Yorker has reported gifts from the Mercers to the institute totaling $1.6 million.)

But he says that he was not aware when hiring Cambridge Analytica that the company was funded by Mercer. The most recent donation the Wall Street family made to Robinson, he says, was a $150,000 check to his research institute this year.

He adds that Cambridge Analytica did not manage his 2014 campaign, but that they only "did political targeting."

"My [2014] campaign manager was my son," Robinson told WW, "and we don't need people to tell us how to manage things. Cambridge Analytica was there, but the only way they helped was to make suggestions, which we would follow or not."

He also says that he was not aware of any non-U.S. citizens working on his campaign. "The didn't appear to be foreigners," he said.

Robinson will make his fifth attempt at U.S. Congress in the upcoming May primaries, facing four other Republican challengers for a chance to run against DeFazio in the fall.