Republican congressional candidate Art Robinson claims in a $1 million defamation lawsuit filed Monday against U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio that the 13-term congressman sought to fool voters into thinking Robinson placed a series of roadside billboards advocating the closure of public schools, ending Social Security and federal student aid programs.
The suit alleges that the billboards are part of a DeFazio campaign strategy to undermine Robinson’s credibility and cast him as a “pathological nut job.”
In a phone interview today, DeFazio, a Democrat, defended the billboards as truthful.
“All of them are documented. They are accurate,” DeFazio said. “He said all of those things.”
Robinson declined Monday to comment to The News-Review.
The DeFazio billboards — put up in Roseburg, Sutherlin, Coos Bay and Corvallis — feature a photograph of Robinson and statements attributed to Robinson: “Public schools should be abolished,” “Social Security should be ended through attrition” and “End federal student financial aid programs.”
A billboard near Oregon State University quotes Robinson as saying, “OSU is a liberal socialist stronghold.” Robinson made the comment in 2011 when he accused OSU and DeFazio of conspiring to block the academic careers of three of his children.
The billboards refer voters to a DeFazio campaign website, whoisArtRobinson.com.
In an 11-page complaint filed in Josephine County Circuit Court, Robinson’s attorney, Zachary Hostetter of Enterprise, alleges that DeFazio searched through Robinson’s writings over the past two decades and came up with “half-sentences and partial ideas that when taken out of context serve to further the false portrayal” of Robinson.
Robinson will have a hard time persuading a state court that he was cast in a false light and that DeFazio improperly appropriated his likeness, veteran political observer Jim Moore said.
“When you run for office, you become a public figure,” said Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University in Forest Grove. “It’s an impossibly high bar for him to reach in pressing a lawsuit.”
Robinson could complain to the Federal Elections Commission, but that group, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, has been “woefully dysfunctional” the past several years, Moore said.
Robinson complains in the lawsuit that three of the seven DeFazio billboards described in the complaint lack a disclaimer saying who paid for them. One is along Interstate 5 near Sutherlin and the other two were erected in Corvallis.
That was an oversight on the part of the sign makers, DeFazio said. Corrections are being made to the signs, he said.
Robinson complained the type on four other billboards “include a disclaimer that is printed in a size and style that is unreadable by passing motorists.”
Less than a half-mile from one of DeFazio’s signs north of Winchester, a Robinson billboard accuses DeFazio of seeking higher gas prices by raising taxes. The sign references House Resolution 1683, co-sponsored by DeFazio and fellow Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland. The bills seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by oil refineries, coal plants and other industries.
DeFazio has a record calling for investigations into gas price increases. Last May, he asked the Justice Department to investigate spikes in West Coast prices after several refineries shut down for maintenance one experienced a fire.
Robinson lost to DeFazio two years ago, but he collected 59 percent of the vote in Josephine County.
Before hanging up, Robinson told The News-Review he was still upset that the newspaper reported before the May primary that a Democrat filed a complaint alleging Robinson’s son, Matthew Robinson, made a false statement in the voters guide. Matthew Robinson ran against DeFazio in the Democratic primary.
“I think it’s dishonorable for me to talk with you,” Art Robinson said Monday. “You smeared that young man’s name across the country.
Matthew Robinson stated in the voters guide that his family provided $600,000 in scholarships to needy students.
The Secretary of State’s Office dismissed the complaint after the election. Matthew Robinson’s claim was based on discounted copies of the home-school curriculum sold by his family.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.