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Oregon Officials May Be Covering Their Tracks on Illegal Electioneering

Oregon Officials May Be Covering Their Tracks on Illegal Electioneering

By Russ Belville with Jennifer Alexander

Two months from now, Oregonians will decide on Measure 91, a citizen initiative to legalize marijuana. Law enforcement and drug prevention officials are attempting to produce a so-called “educational” summit and tour on marijuana, starring the nation’s leading anti-marijuana-legalization spokesperson, Kevin Sabet, who last visited Oregon in January to lobby the legislature to kill a marijuana legalization proposal nearly identical to the initiative.

These elected and appointed officials may not use their office, staff, equipment, and time to lobby against a citizen ballot initiative, but it seems they may have done so anyway. Now it appears they are trying to retroactively fund their “educational” events with private dollars and cover up the fact they ever used public resources to initiate promotion and production of these political events.

The events scheduled consist of an entire day discussing marijuana in one city, followed by two-hour speeches about marijuana in twelve cities. These events are scheduled just prior to the time Oregonians, who vote completely by mail, will be receiving their ballots. Not only do the events feature Kevin Sabet, who founded the Project SAM organization that explicitly opposes marijuana legalization, but the summit also features the Colorado and Washington heads of the Project SAM chapters in those states that just legalized marijuana. Every panelist and speaker at the summit whose public opinion is known opposes the legalization of marijuana.

There is no question among members of the public health community that these events are clearly designed to influence the election. In an email obtained by 420RADIO, Karen Wheeler, the administrator of the Addictions and Mental Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority writes:

We have determined the multi-city educational tour that has been planned falls inside the lines of political activity given the featured speaker and the timing of the events right before the election.

420RADIO responded by asking Wheeler for more detail as to whom “we” refers to, and in response, Wheeler makes it clear that federal agencies consider the Summit and Tour as political, not “educational” events:

To answer your question, “we” means AMH leadership which includes me and Pam Martin, the Director.

Pam and I were called by a Congressman’s office yesterday as well to make sure no federal funds were being used to support these events in any way.

Prior to that call, last week I was contacted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and asked for written confirmation that no SAPT block grant or SPF grant funds were being used for political or lobbying purposes in light of the events.

So the federal government officials who administer funds that come to us have made this pretty clear to us I believe.

The Oregonian reported on the remarks of Rick Treleaven, the executive director of BestCare Prevention Services, a nonprofit that runs community mental health programs for Jefferson County, before and after he canceled BestCare’s $15,000 funding of the summit.

He said that marijuana is the “hot topic of the moment,” both because of the legalization debate and the increasing availability of the drug through the medical marijuana program. … [I]n retrospect, he probably should have moved timing of the tour to avoid charges of trying to influence the November vote. … [H]e decided to cancel the summit because he “could see from an outside perspective that it could look like a conflict.”

The Oregonian reported further that after Treleaven pulled BestCare’s money, the District Attorney in Jefferson County, Steven Leriche, was working the phones to raise the money to replace it.

Jefferson County District Attorney Steve Leriche said he spent Friday morning on the phone trying to raise the $15,000 it would take to make sure the conference goes on. He said he’s chipped in $500 personally and has raised $2,000 so far. … He said a representative from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission was originally slated to attend, but pulled out over the controversy.

In another indication that the organizers of these “educational” events understand they are political events meant to reduce support for the legalization of marijuana proposed by Measure 91, Clatsop County DA Josh Marquis, who has emerged as the de facto law enforcement spokesperson against Measure 91, was quoted by the Bend Bulletin in a story entitled “Who’s against legal weed in Oregon? Opposition mounting low budget fight against Measure 91”:

The opponents of a proposal that would allow Oregonians to carry up to a half-pound of pot are trying to mount a campaign against Measure 91 ahead of the November election.

The group consists mainly of the state’s district attorneys and the state’s sheriffs’ association and is heading toward November with very little organization or money to fight the second attempt in two years to legalize pot in the state.

But those opposing the measure unveiled a series of seminars across Oregon that will take place just weeks before the election to try and persuade voters not to pass the measure.

Marquis said a cluster of seminars scheduled throughout the state in October could pour water on the measure that as of Friday was favored by a slim majority of likely voters.

As the political nature of the “educational” events was recognized by the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and BestCare Prevention Services, it appeared that the organizers knew they had crossed the line and were trying to step back over it. 420RADIO made phone calls to the organizers of the stops on the twelve-city tour, particularly the events to be held in schools and other government buildings. Only one organizer, in Tigard, returned our calls, telling us that their event would be moved from the Tigard High School to the church across the street to avoid any appearance of public funding.

420RADIO did acquire a flyer produced for the October 2 tour stop in Oregon City, just south of Portland. Entitled “Protecting our Youth – Community Leaders Luncheon on the Changing Landscape of Marijuana in Clackamas”, it promotes “Special Guest: Dr. Kevin Sabet, Ph.D” and asks for RSVPs by August 22, 2014 to [redacted]@orecity.k12.or.us, which is an Oregon Public Schools email address. The footer of the flyer indicates that “This event is made possible by your local Drug Free Communities Coalition” and other groups that may also receive federal grant money.

In order to discern just how much public time and resources may have been used in formulating these “educational” events, 420RADIO submitted official requests for the email, phone, and internet search records of Jefferson County DA Steven Leriche, Clatsop County DA Josh Marquis, and the email listserv of the Oregon District Attorneys. Their reactions to this lawful request for government transparency further highlight their sensitivity to the political nature of their actions.

In an email obtained by 420RADIO, Clatsop County DA Josh Marquis is writing to an unknown recipient, presumably a member of the team putting together the “educational” events. The subject line is “Ringer” and contains the following:

Both Steve Leriche and I have received very invasive and harassing demands for ALL our emails, phone calls, even websites visited. We’ll have to give up most, but other than the inconvenience it’s no big deal.  NOW Steve has a “private” email address – [redacted]@gmail.com.

Ignore for a moment a top law enforcement official who thinks open records requests are “invasive and harassing”. If “NOW” DA Leriche has a private email address, does that not indicate up until now, he was using a public resource to plan this event? If he “spent Friday morning on the phone,” isn’t that during regular DA’s office working hours? Was that time spent on a Jefferson County phone line?

DA Marquis continues with a line that seemingly indicates his pursuit of Karen Wheeler and the folks at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) for retribution:

Sen Johnson is interested in the OHA – pro-pot connection so I’m writing her so she can pass it on I can handle the hear! [sic]

That last line – probably “I can handle the heat” – seems to indicate Marquis knows he’s treading in murky ethical waters. He continues the email by asking the unknown recipient what he or she means by the following:

“General Dean-CEO of CADCA and although CADCA is not supportive of us moving forward, Patrick Kennedy and others are. I will keep you posted once I hear from ONDCP.” To be blunt “moral support” means very little right!

CADCA is the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, which is funded in part by federal grant money. Patrick Kennedy is the co-founder with Kevin Sabet of the Project SAM anti-legalization campaign. ONDCP is the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the “Drug Czar”). Does this mean that the unknown recipient Marquis is addressing has been coordinating with national anti-legalization organizations? Is the recipient a government employee using government resources? The fact that CADCA “is not supportive” and anti-legalization Project SAM is supportive seems further evidence damning these events as political, not “educational”.

When 420RADIO responded to DA Marquis about the “Ringer” email, he doubled down, writing “I stand by everything I said,” and continuing:

I meant it when I said that ANYONE associated with the tour should expect harassment in the form of invasive public records requests (like the ones Steve Leriche and I received). … But at this point the tour is PRIVATELY funded, the supporters of 91 having succeeded in politically bullying most funding sources away from any involvement. … The funding for the tour has already been killed by partisans at OHA and now at the federal level and I’ve rarely seen more political fear spread on any issue, and as an elected official for 20 plus years, that’s saying something. … In my own county the whole event has been cancelled, almost exclusively because of political pressure brought by pro-91 advocates, who don’t want Kevin Sabet, Eric Martin, and maybe others to speak AT ALL.

Again, let’s ignore considering government transparency “harassment” and “invasive” for a moment, and characterization of ensuring that elected officials obey the law as “political bullying”. If at “this point” the tour is privately funded, is that not an admission that prior to this point, public funds were being used? Why, if the events are merely “educational” is there such “political fear”?

Nobody is against Kevin Sabet and others speaking in Oregon. (Personally, I’d welcome it; he’s just more great material for my 420RADIO show.) We’re just against breaking the law by using public funds to pay him and others to speak and to promote and produce the events designed to campaign against marijuana legalization.

In Clatsop County where “the whole event has been canceled,” I made our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request through the County Clerk and received an official response from the County Counsel, but DA Marquis followed through by calling me directly. Marquis explained that he himself would be going through his own records to determine what was appropriate to send to 420RADIO in response to the records request. I then sent an email to Scott Somers, the County Manager, asking him to supervise the selection of records, as Marquis’ self-supervision of records that may show he acted unethically or illegally seemed inappropriate to me.

DA Marquis then responded directly to 420RADIO:

I foolishly attempted to expedite your non-request. (The “FOIA” does not apply to state agencies,) …

I generally arbitrate requests for public records, although this one I would not because it would be inappropriate. I doubt you would be intimidated by anything I could say and I frankly consider this request harassment. …

Mr. Somers is the CEO of Clatsop County under the County charter and I have asked his office to review your request and I will then examine the materials to determine if I deem any to be non-disclosable.

Although it is interesting that Marquis thinks a lawful request for government transparency is “harassment” and expediting it is “foolish”, I am more concerned with his insistence on veto power over any records disclosed. I responded to Marquis by explaining, “Asking you to turn over the records from your email, URL, and phone logs when I’m pretty sure you’ve breached numerous election laws would be like asking for an honest accounting of state funds from an embezzler – you certainly have a conflict of interest.” This elicited a response from Marquis:

Since you are apparently accusing me of committing some law violation do NOT communicate with me further.  Any requests you have regarding “Freedom of Information” or related matters please contact the lawyer For Clatsop County…

I responded to Marquis that since he is emailing me with his JMarquis@co.clatsop.or.us address, he couldn’t order me to not contact him. That email address and the server that processes it belong to the people, which is the entire point of the records request in the first place. Marquis then responded using his personal gmail address:

Don’t contact me again.

You are accusing me of a crime.

Leave me alone.

File whatever you want and take up your records request with the county but obviously civility means nothing to you.

If weed makes people as mean and crazy as you, I’ve seriously underestimated it’s dangers.

So now beyond just being “invasive and harassing” for asking for public records, I am “mean and crazy” for insisting that elected law enforcement officials obey the law. I responded again, explaining how civil law enforcement officers were to me when they cuffed me, put me in the back of a police car, and held me for eight hours in a cage over marijuana charges that were later dropped. Marquis responded again with a gmail:

If you say you are going to sue me, I’m done talking.

…which, of course, I have never said, written, or implied.

I will keep you radical readers posted on the results of the records requests. Neither Clatsop nor Jefferson Counties’ IT departments have responded to me yet with any estimates of time or cost. I will refile the requests as official Oregon Open Records requests instead of FOIA requests, so that the Oregon statutory deadline of twenty working days should get us some records by mid-October.