Oregon state senator threatens lawsuit against Republicans accusing him of ties to Chinese communists

By Julia Shumway (Oregon Capital Chronicle)
April 2, 2024 7:56 p.m.

Ben Edtl, the president of the Republican Unity Caucus, doubled down on his claims after receiving a letter from state Sen. David Brock Smith’s attorney

A Republican state senator in a hotly contested primary race on Monday threatened to sue a House candidate and a former conservative radio host over statements suggesting he’s connected to the Chinese Communist Party.

Jill Gibson, an attorney representing Port Orford Republican Sen. David Brock Smith, sent a cease-and-desist letter Monday to House candidate Ben Edtl and former radio host Rob Taylor over comments about Brock Smith made through the Republican Unity Caucus, a political action committee Edtl leads. The group supports one of Brock Smith’s opponents in the Republican primary, logger Todd Vaughn.

Oregon state Sen. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, on the Senate floor, March 1, 2024, at the Oregon state Capitol in Salem, Ore.

Oregon state Sen. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, on the Senate floor, March 1, 2024, at the Oregon state Capitol in Salem, Ore.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The letter accused Edtl and Taylor of violating state law by publishing false statements about a political candidate and says that Brock Smith will pursue legal action if the pair don’t remove lies they posted online and included in advertisements.

Brock Smith told the Capital Chronicle he tried to correct misinformation last year and shared a copy of a 21-page letter he sent constituents in December. Since then, the Republican Unity Caucus and Taylor have doubled down, he said, including recently purchasing a billboard on Highway 99 south of Roseburg that refers to him as “made in China.”

“In my 20 years of dedicated public service, I have never witnessed such blatantly false statements,” Brock Smith said. “The deceitful misinformation coming from my opponents and their supporters rivals that of the Democrats towards President Trump. I have, and will continue, to look at every piece of legislation through our conservative lens for our district in Douglas, Coos, and Curry counties.”

Edtl was unrepentant, saying in a statement to the Capital Chronicle that Brock Smith is the “Republican ringleader” of the “most corrupt body of legislators in the entire nation” and repeating some of the claims about wind energy and property purchases that Brock Smith’s letter described as false.

“David Brock Smith’s political career is coming to an end, and he doesn’t know how to save it,” Edtl said. “So, he has resorted to threatening me with a personal lawsuit to force us to back us down. However, the Republican Unity Caucus will not be intimidated by bullies. We are bound by America First values and will only continue to grow in numbers and strength. I will remain in steadfast support of Todd Vaughn in his effort to unseat David Brock Smith. And I will continue exposing his treachery with effective memes on social media.”

The Republican Unity Caucus PAC was created in November and has raised about $35,000, nearly half of that through an in-kind contribution from Edtl’s public relations firm Politogy, according to state campaign finance records. The firm bills itself on its website as having “highly seasoned political change agents” who are working “exclusively, passionately and tirelessly to advance conservative ideals.” The PAC also paid Politogy more than $4,000 and contributed $1,650 toward Edtl’s campaign for state House in the deeply Democratic 37th House District.

The PAC’s main goal so far has been to target Brock Smith: Four of the nine posts on its website attack the southern Oregon senator, who represents the 1st Senate District. Another accuses Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, of accepting a payout to end a six-week walkout that all Senate Republicans except Brock Smith, Dick Anderson of Lincoln City and Fred Girod of Stayton participated in. The 10 senators who missed more than 10 days of floor sessions were not allowed to run for reelection because of a voter-approved constitutional amendment intended to deter quorum-denying walkouts. The accusation is not backed up by facts: The Republicans returned to work after Democrats watered down a proposal on reproductive rights.


‘Made in China’

A March 22 post on the Republican Unity Caucus website includes a photo of Brock Smith superimposed over the Chinese flag and the quote “I’m putting Chinese windmills in Coos Bay,” attributed to Brock Smith. The graphic refers to Brock Smith as “made in China.”

The text of that post consists of a statement from Edtl that says Brock Smith’s vote for a 2021 wildfire mapping law paved the way for a Chinese billionaire, Tianqiao Chen, to become Oregon’s largest private landowner and that another 2021 law Brock Smith sponsored paved the way to install a “250-square wind energy industrial complex.” Edtl posted a link to that post and a graphic on social media with another quote falsely attributed to Brock Smith that said “I helped Tianqiao Chen become the largest landowner in Oregon.”

Chen purchased his nearly 200,000 acres of forestland in Deschutes and Klamath counties in 2015, and Brock Smith wasn’t elected to the state House until 2016.

Brock Smith’s 2021 law on offshore wind, which passed the House unanimously, required the state Department of Energy to hold listening sessions and publicize federal attempts to designate space off Oregon’s coast for wind energy. The law also directed state agencies to engage with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management about the proposal, and Brock Smith credits that law and other public engagement in slowing down the federal government’s push to install offshore wind.

The Republican Unity Caucus lists one current state representative, Republican Rep. James Hieb of Canby, as one of its members. Hieb didn’t respond to an inquiry from the Capital Chronicle on Monday about whether he’s actually part of the group. Its other members are Edtl, Vaughn, a Republican candidate for a safely Democratic Beaverton-based House district and another Republican the website describes as a House candidate but who didn’t file to run for office.

Taylor hosted a show on BiCoastal Media, which runs radio stations in Oregon, Washington and northern California, until early December 2023. He blames Brock Smith, state Reps. Virgle Osborne, R-Roseburg, and Court Boice, R-Gold Beach, and Brock Smith campaign donor Thomas Tuttle for his show’s cancellation after he repeated claims made by the Republican Unity Caucus.

Osborne described the attacks on Brock Smith as dishonest in a statement.

“I have not seen a single piece of evidence to back up the agitators’ claims levied against Sen. Brock Smith,” he said. “These shameful attacks are dishonest and reflect poorly on the Republican Party.”

Along with Vaughn and Brock Smith, former Roseburg City Councilor Ashley Hicks and frequent candidate Paul Romero are running in the May 21 Republican primary.

This story was originally published by the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

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