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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman March 27, 2018

Ohio Republican wrongly says Sherrod Brown likes communism

Republicans have long attacked U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, as an ultra liberal, but now one of Brown’s hopeful Republican challengers has cast the incumbent as someone who is so far to the left that he likes communism and Marxism.

Mike Gibbons, a wealthy Ohio investment banker, criticized Brown’s philosophy in an interview Feb. 20 with the Republican Liberty Caucus of Ohio.

Gibbons said that Brown "majored in Russian studies at Yale University and when he majored in it -- because he would have been in (the same year as) my class -- Russia was a communist country. So he studied communism, and apparently he liked it, because a lot of his policies reflect that interest in Marxism."

Gibbons, who was the finance co-chair for a joint committee for Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee in 2016, has made comments about Brown studying Marxism or Russian multiple times on the campaign trail. He is one of many candidates, including U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, competing in the May 8 Republican primary.

Gibbons’ claim is disingenuous. We found that Brown does speak up for American workers, as communists often do, but that doesn’t mean that Brown likes communism. In fact, for decades Brown has been critical of communism, particularly in China.

Brown majored in Russian studies, then started political career

Brown did receive a bachelor of arts in Russian and Eastern European studies from Yale in 1974. (Brown later earned master's degrees in education and public policy from Ohio State University. )

Brown’s Yale degree included courses in a broad range of disciplines, including studying the language, although Brown is not a fluent Russian speaker, his campaign spokesman Preston Maddock said.

Maddock said Brown’s studies were not out of fondness for communism, and he pointed to several conservatives who also studied Russian or Russian studies, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.

In the 1970s, Russian studies was an important area of knowledge because people were developing expertise to help combat the USSR, a major Cold War opponent, said Mark Smith director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University.

"For sure, some in those programs may have been true believers in Marxism or communism, but there is no evidence of this in Brown's background," Smith said. "Nothing I am aware of would cause me to question his commitment to the United States, our form of government, or the Constitution (which he has sworn to uphold and defend)."

The same year Brown graduated Yale in 1974, he won his first elected office to the Ohio House of Representatives. He later served as Ohio secretary of state and was elected to Congress in 1992. He joined the U.S. Senate in 2007.

Gibbons cites Breitbart article

Gibbons campaign’s main piece of evidence is a 2012 article in Breitbart, a conservative publication, which cited several examples linking Brown to "undue influence" from the Communist Party USA.

Breitbart linked to a 2003 editorial written by Brown when he was in the House. Brown criticized Congress for taking many votes on important topics, such as veterans benefits, tax cuts and money for the Iraq war, between midnight and 3 a.m.

"Always in the middle of the night," Brown wrote. "Always after the press had passed their deadlines. Always after the American people had turned off the news and gone to bed."

There’s nothing about communism or Marxism in what Brown wrote, but Breitbart objected that it was re-printed by the People’s World, a publication that includes Marxist and communist opinions.

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But Brown’s op-ed was also published in mainstream publications such as the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Lorain Morning Journal in Ohio.

Breitbart also pointed to the People’s World celebrating Brown’s win in 2006; however, the editorial only briefly mentioned Brown and generally celebrated the national Democratic sweep when voters were mad about the war in Iraq.

That fact that the People’s World supported Brown doesn’t show that Brown supported communism.

Brown has a liberal record

Brown is best known in the Senate for his longtime opposition to trade agreements and his support for labor, beginning when he was a freshman House member in 1993 and voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Brown’s position on trade is rooted in fighting for American industry and workers and has been consistent throughout his career," Maddock, Brown’s spokesman, said. "If support for fair trade deals makes Senator Brown a communist, what does the Gibbons campaign have to say about the fact that Brown and President Trump frequently agree on how to deal with trade?"

Brown has steadily earned high scores from the AFL-CIO as well as the liberal organization Americans for Democratic Action and League of Conservation Voters. Despite his liberal record, he has found common ground with the Trump administration.

Brown agreed with Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He has said he will work with the Trump administration to help Ohio’s steel and manufacturing sectors, and in 2017 Brown praised Trump’s administration for asking the trade office to look into whether China had stolen U.S. technology and intellectual property

University of Akron political science professor David B. Cohen noted the similarities on trade between Brown and Trump.

"Brown’s position on trade is not much different than President Trump’s position, yet Gibbons is a huge public supporter of Trump. Are Trump’s economic views Marxian?" he said.

Brown has criticized communism for decades

Brown has spoken against communism for decades.

After Brown lost the secretary of state re-election in 1990, he taught at Ohio State University and then worked with the Polish Ministry of Education to help rid its curriculum of Marxist-Leninist courses after the fall of the country's communist government in 1989, the Athens News reported in 2006.

Brown has frequently criticized China for its communism and human rights abuses. In 1994, Brown criticized President Bill Clinton’s decision to renew Most Favored Nation trading status for China.

"This is a communist country that has made some nods to free enterprise, but still has the same oppressive communist regime," Brown said. "It's almost nonsensical."

In 2015, he opposed giving the Obama administration renewed Trade Promotion Authority known as "fast track."

Our ruling

In noting that Brown studied Russia as a college student, Gibbons said, "apparently he liked it, because a lot of his policies reflect that interest in Marxism."

We found no evidence to suggest Brown supports Marxism or communism. Brown does favor American workers and opposes many free trade policies, but those are policy positions he shares with President Trump.

We rate Gibbons’ statement False.

Our Sources

Republican Liberty Caucus of Ohio, Interview with Mike Gibbons, Feb. 20, 2018

LA Times, Newsmakers, March 2, (Accessed in Nexis)1990

States News Service, "Brown balks at Clinton decision to review China MFN," (Accessed in Nexis) May 26, 1994

Washington Times, "Inside the Beltway," July 11, 2004

Sherrod Brown, "Children abandoned under cover of darkness," (Accessed in Nexis) Nov. 18, 2005

Mansfield News Journal, "No place like home to start a run for the U.S. Senate," (Accessed in Nexis) Nov. 27, 2005

In These Times, "Who is Sherrod Brown?" Dec. 19, 2005

Washington Post, "Ohio Senator Still Awaiting Universal Health Coverage," Dec. 7, 2007, "Sen. Sherrod Brown stumps for health care reform," April 17, 2009

Federal News Service, Transcript of press conference with multiple Senators, (Accessed in Nexis) Oct. 12, 2011

Breitbart, "How Sherrod Brown pleased the communist party," Oct. 30, 2012

Watchdog, "Left of Trotsky: Sherrod Brown blames WWII on ‘capitalism,’" Oct. 31, 2012

UPI, "Communist wins award from Ohio secretary of state," (Accessed in Nexis) Feb. 20, 1990, "Are Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Marcy Kaptur communists? Tea Party website says so," Aug. 19, 2013

Republican National Committee press release, "Meet ultra-liberal career politician Sherrod Brown," (Accessed in Nexis) July 27, 2016 video, Here’s what you need to know about Sherrod Brown, in 60 seconds, June 1, 2016, "How Donald Trump won Ohio," Nov. 9, 2016, "Official tally shows Donald Trump won Ohio by 446,841 votes over Hillary Clinton," Dec. 1, 2016

Lancaster Eagle Gazette, "Brown may join Trump on trade; Senate Dem agrees with stance on NAFTA," (Accessed in Nexis) Dec. 3, 2016

The Repository (Canton) "Ohio senators praise president on trade move with China," Aug. 15, 2017

Athens News, "Do-or-die time," Oct. 2, 2006

Washington Post, "In red Ohio, a Democrat's resolve," (Accessed in Nexis) July 25, 2017

Washington Post, Robert M. Gates profile, Nov 6, 2008

Talkers, "Catching up with Laura Ingraham," May 13, 2013

Congressional Executive Commission on China, Statement of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Cochairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Dec. 18, 2012

New York Times, "Why Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren Are Eyeing Ohio in 2018," March 11, 2018

Center for Responsive Politics, Sen. Sherrod Brown, 1991-2018

The Hill, "Sherrod Brown looks to defy Trump trend in Ohio," May 18, 2017

CQ, Profile of Sherrod Brown, (Subscription required) Sept. 26, 2017

Dayton Daily News, "Mike Gibbons says he will beat Sherrod Brown, puts $5M in Senate race but may first face Renacci," Jan 10, 2018

Columbia Journalism Review, "‘Serious, point-of-view journalism’?" Sept. 13, 2012

U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown, Press release, April 23, 2015

U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, Press release, (Accessed in Nexis) May 26, 1994

Mike Gibbons, Campaign website, Accessed March 21, 2018

National Women’s History Museum, Condoleezza Rice, 2017

AFL-CIO, U.S. Senate, Accessed March 21, 2018

Americans for Democratic Action, Congressional voting record, 2016

League of Conservation Voters, National environmental scorecard, 2017

PolitiFact, "Josh Mandel says Sen. Sherrod Brown rates as the most liberal in the United States," July 18, 2011

PolitiFact, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci’s Truth-O-Meter, Accessed March 21, 2018

Interview, Mark Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University March 19, 2018

Interview, David B. Cohen, University of Akron political science professor, March 19, 2018

Interview, Thomas C. Sutton, Director, Community Research Institute Burton D. Morgan Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies Professor, Political Science Baldwin Wallace University, March 20, 2018

Interview, Anita Waters, organizer of the Columbus chapter of the Communist Party USA and a member of the national and state committee, March 20, 2018

Interview, Chris Schrimpf, Mike Gibbons campaign spokesman, March 16, 2018

Interview, Preston Maddock, Sherrod Brown campaign spokesman, March 20, 2018

Interview, Michael Corsetti, Assistant University Registrar Yale, March 20, 2018

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Ohio Republican wrongly says Sherrod Brown likes communism

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