October 18th, 2010 5:33 pm | by MARK ZUSMAN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

DeFazio's New Opponent: a Hedge Fund Billionaire

Bob Mercer and Peter Brown

Oregon's most interesting congressional race may not be the closest one. (That would likely be the race in the Fifth Congressional District between first-term Democratic incumbent Kurt Schrader and Republican challenger Scott Bruun.)

Instead, it is the Fourth Congressional District race between 12-term Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio and Republican challenger Art Robinson.

DeFazio, who typically wins his re-elections by huge margins, is being challenged this time by Robinson—a scientist with legitimate academic credentials who wants to close the Environmental Protection Agency and privatize Social Security.

The race would hardly register on anyone's political Richter scale except for the significant amount of money being spent on Robinson's behalf by a shadowy Washington D.C. group called Concerned Taxpayers for America. CTA has spent money opposing just two congressional candidates: Maryland Democrat Frank Kratovil and DeFazio.

CTA has spent $300,000 on ads against DeFazio, and the spending appears to be having some effect. A GOP poll last week indicated that Robinson is within six percentage points of DeFazio. Jen Gilbreath, DeFazio's campaign manager acknowledged that the race had tightened, but wouldn't share numbers.

Recently, reports were filed with the Federal Elections Commission by CTA, and its source of money is now out of the shadows. CTA has just two donors. One is a concrete firm in Maryland that apparently doesn't like Kratovil. The other is Bob Mercer (pictured above, left), who with his partner runs Renaissance Technologies, one of the nation's largest hedge funds.

Mercer doesn't talk to the press, But Robinson tells WW that he and Mercer are acquainted. Robinson said Mercer subscribes to Robinson's global warming newsletter, Access to Energy, and that the two men had met twice in New York, one time at a global warming conference.

"I know very little about this man but I respect him," Robinson said.

Mercer most likely is spending his money in this district race, however, because DeFazio's sponsorship of a couple of Wall Street reform bills. One in particular, H.R. 4191, specifically targets funds like Mercer's and would charge a fee on his fund's transactions.
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