Congressman Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, speaks to a group of residents during a meet-and-greet Jan. 6, 2022, in La Grande. (Alex Wittwer/EO Media)

LA GRANDE – Oregon U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, does not believe former President Donald Trump’s claim that President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election because of voter fraud.

“The election was not stolen, it was bought,’’ Bentz, a first-term congressman, said during an appearance Jan. 6. in La Grande.

It was one of several statements Bentz made during the La Grande event and later expanded on Wednesday, Jan. 12, in an interview.

‘It was bought’

Bentz said Democrats had an enormous edge in funding donors with deep pockets, including one who donated $400 million to Biden’s campaign. Bentz said the Democrats spent several times more money per vote than the Republicans did.

Bentz referenced a large donation made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and suggested it benefited Biden and Democrats.

In September 2020, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, personally made a $300 million donation to two groups — Center for Tech and Civic Life and the Center for Election Innovation & Research. The money was specifically designated to recruit poll workers, supply them with personal protection equipment and set up drive-thru voting. The rest was distributed to state election officials throughout the country. According to a press release, the Center for Tech and Civic Life received an additional $100 million from Zuckerberg and Chan in October 2020.

Bentz said he based his comments around an October 2021 article from The Federalist, a conservative media website, entitled “Zuckerbucks 101: How A Media Mogul Took Over The 2020 Election And Why GOP Leaders Must Never Let It Happen Again.”

The article, mostly citing other conservative sources, argues the Center for Tech and Civic Life “corrupted” elections by sending money to election offices in Democratic-leaning areas and by facilitating the mail-in voting process.

Referencing the article, Bentz said the nonprofit was not apolitical because the founders had once worked for an organization with Democratic ties.

“That money was used to prompt Democrat voters to vote,” he said. “And it was used to design and translate ballots. It was used to staff curing and counting ballot operations. Those kinds of things, all according to various articles you can easily find, trended toward turning out more Democrats than Republicans.”

Both groups Zuckerberg donated to are 501(c)(3) nonprofits, which are legally prohibited from political campaign activity. The Center for Election Innovation and Research advertises itself as a group with “a proven track record of working with election experts from around the country and from both sides of the aisle.”

Bentz said their actions during the 2020 elections could lose them their 501(c)(3) status, an important designation that exempts them from taxes.

“As a lawyer I have helped form 501(c)(3)s and I’ve been involved with 501(c)(4)s … I’ll just say that the fact that you enjoy that designation does not mean does not in any way prove that you’ve complied with the requirements of such a designation,” he said.

The inflation distraction

Bentz spoke in La Grande on the one-year anniversary of the day Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol Building in an attempt to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. Bentz said he believes Democrats are blowing the Jan. 6 riot out of proportion in an attempt to divert attention from the issues people really are concerned about.

“It is a huge opportunity for them to distract the nation from inflation,’’ Bentz said.

In the interview, Bentz said he condemned the violence that afflicted the Capitol a year ago, but he reiterated that Democrats were focusing on a partisan investigation into Trump’s role in the insurrection rather than important issues, such as inflation or the border.

The Garland memo

Bentz also spoke about U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the FBI to investigate a rise in harassment and threats of violence against school board members nationwide.

Bentz told the audience in La Grande that it is not the FBI’s place to do this.

“This is what communities should be looking into,’’ he said.

On Oct. 4, Garland released a memo directing the FBI to meet with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement to develop strategies to address “harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against school board members and school employees.

Later that month, Garland defended the memo at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting after Republicans accused the attorney general of overreach, according to The Associated Press.

“The obligation of the Justice Department is to protect the American people against violence and threats of violence and that particularly includes public officials,” Garland said.

In the interview, Bentz said he did not condone threats of violence directed at school officials. But as a former school board member for both a private Catholic school and the Ontario School District, Bentz said he was concerned that Garland’s memo would have a “chilling effect” on parent participation.

He added if people threatened or harassed school officials, local law enforcement could handle those situations without getting the federal government involved.

La Grande Observer reporter Dick Mason contributed to this article, which is republished with permission from EO Media.