Anyone who wants to see the extent to which entities from outside the United States are becoming involved in U.S. elections need look no further than Oregon's 4th Congressional District.
The district, which includes Lane County, has been represented by Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio since 1987. His Republican challenger in the last four general elections has been Cave Junction chemist Art Robinson — DeFazio's polar opposite on most issues.
In 2014, Robinson received help from a London-based firm, Cambridge Analytica. The company has been in the news recently because of the scandal involving Facebook users' private information.
The company ended up in this unwelcome spotlight when several former employees became whistle blowers. One of them told British lawmakers that Cambridge Analytica had gathered personal information on about 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or permission. This information was allegedly used in efforts to manipulate voters during the last U.S. general election.
One of Cambridge Analytica's clients was the Trump campaign. (The company and the Trump administration have both denied that this information was used by the Trump campaign.)
Another client was the Robinson campaign in Oregon. The plan, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post, was to rehabilitate Robinson's image with voters "by presenting him as a sympathetic family man and serious scientist rather than as the extremely right-wing, unstable 'mad scientist' caricature created by the opposition... ."
Robinson lost the 2014 election, but the firm likely didn't consider its work wasted. Robinson told Willamette Week that Cambridge Analytica was using his campaign as a way to learn about U.S. politics.
The nonpartisan watchdog organization Common Cause filed a request with the U.S. Department of Justice this week for an investigation into whether Cambridge Analytica violated prohibitions on foreign entities involving themselves in U.S. elections (bit.ly/2IbfXOv). Among the campaigns listed in the filing is the Art Robinson for Congress campaign.
The filing, among other things, cites specific tactics Cambridge Analytica employees boasted of using in elections the company was involved in. The employees described how the personal information harvested on social media allowed the company to manipulate voters by creating profiles and identifying personality traits.
Whether it comes from the Department of Justice or another non-partisan federal entity, a thorough investigation into all of this is desperately needed to preserve, or restore, Americans' faith in their political system, provide the tools to prevent further attempts at meddling, and to punish any wrongdoers who have violated U.S. rules, regulations or laws. Failure to do so leaves the door open to further violations of the American electoral process.
"In 2014, (Cambridge Analytica) chose four states — Oregon was one — to come and learn about American politics so they could work in later elections," Robinson said.
— The (Eugene) Register-Guard