WASHINGTON -- For the second election in a row, a Long Island-based hedge fund manager is trying to defeat a liberal Oregon congressman by pumping money into a mercenary super PAC.
According to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday, Renaissance Technologies co-CEO Robert Mercer gave $239,354 to Republican Super PAC, a group run by campaign finance reform opponent Jim Bopp, to defeat Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). The group has already spent more than $140,000 campaigning against DeFazio.
This is Mercer's second attempt to unseat DeFazio. In 2010, the multi-billionaire gave more than $600,000 to a group called Concerned Taxpayers of America that spent more than $500,000 attempting to defeat DeFazio. Ultimately, Mercer's efforts failed and DeFazio defeated his opponent, Art Robinson, who is back for a rematch in 2012.
"It's pretty extraordinary," DeFazio told The Huffington Post. "We're about as far from Long Island as it gets."
While he didn't "know if one can divine" the reasons for the notoriously private Mercer's efforts to defeat him, one issue stood out to DeFazio. The Oregon congressman has been the lead sponsor of legislation to impose a tax of one-quarter of one percent on stock market transactions in an effort to curtail speculation through the kind of high-frequency, computer-driven trading that was pioneered by Mercer's Renaissance Technologies.
The disclosure of Mercer's continued attempts to unseat DeFazio provides a new data point in the ongoing history of how the unlimited money unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and subsequent lower court rulings allows billionaires to fight grudge matches against individual lawmakers that support policies that would hurt their bottom line.
This not only has an effect on the race targeted, but also makes other lawmakers take note of which policies attract unwanted attention, according to DeFazio.
"After the last election, when I would ask my [colleagues] to cosponsor a speculator tax they'd say, 'I don't really want to make the people on Wall Street that angry and didn't somebody spend a lot of money against you?'" DeFazio explained. "It has a chilling effect against some people on legislation."
Mercer's choice of Republican Super PAC as the group to level his attacks on DeFazio also reveals more about the evolving, post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape.
Republican Super PAC is a for-hire super PAC promoting itself as a vehicle for donors to earmark contributions to be spent as they please. In this case, Mercer's contribution has gone solely to defeat DeFazio in Oregon's Fourth congressional district, with ads obscuring his involvement by bearing the fine print, "Paid for by Republican Super PAC."
Bopp originally formed Republican Super PAC to push the boundaries of campaign finance law -- something he has made a career of -- by acting as a group that could accept money solicited by candidates from big pocket donors who had maxed out their legal contribution limit to the candidate's campaign. Republican Super PAC would then use that money to spend in the exact way, and in the specific race, earmarked by the donor.
This was a questionable practice, and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) eventually determined that federal candidates could solicit money for super PACs, but only if they did not ask for more than the $2,500 per election limit that donors can give to a candidate. But while candidates could not ask for more, donors could still give to their heart's content.
Mercer has emerged as a major political player in the 2012 election. Including contributions to Republican Super PAC, he has now given more than $3 million to super PACs to spend in the 2012 election. He has given $1 million to the pro-Mitt Romney group Restore Our Future, $1 million to the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, $600,000 to the Club for Growth Action, and other five-figure donations to lesser known groups.
DeFazio is concerned that these attacks are just the tip of the iceberg for congressmen taking positions that rile the ultra-rich, "There are a lot of nutty, extreme, right wing billionaires out there ... I'm being experminented on."