Oregon Marijuana Election Shenanigans Part III: Public Resources Used to Fight Legalization

As Oregon gears up to pass a marijuana legalization initiative known as Measure 91, law enforcement officials throughout the state may have already been using taxpayer-funded offices, email accounts, facilities, and work hours illegally to campaign against the initiative.  Check back on Part I and Part II of our report for more details.

The original sponsor of the two-day “Oregon Marijuana, Alcohol & Other Drugs Summit” in Madras, Oregon pulled it’s $15,000 of federal grant funding, because of the event’s political nature. The event, scheduled to take place as voters receive their ballots to vote on the marijuana legalization initiative, Measure 91, has been criticized by the Measure 91 campaign as a political event, not an educational one. Stepping up to fill the funding gap is a county district attorney and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, who may have violated the law by using public funds for electioneering purposes.

Jefferson County DA Steven Leriche, who “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,” according to the OregonianIf that was time spent on a county phone, or a call made from a county office on county time, or he represented himself as “Jefferson County DA,” or he was using contacts from a county or state database to fundraise from, he has already broken the law.

Leriche was aided recently by the Sheriffs’ Association donation of $10,000  to keep the summit alive. (Funny how there’s plenty of money for sheriffs to oppose marijuana legalization, but not enough to send a sheriff out to respond to a 911 rape call. )[i] Leriche tells KTVZ  in Bend that the summit is mere “a much needed public education opportunity,” but then goes on to complain that “big out-of-state money interests who just bought over $2 million of TV ads to promote legalized marijuana … seem compelled to shut down our small-town educational forum,” and that “Someone with a lot of influence doesn’t want Oregonians hearing what Dr. Sabet has to say,” which seem to indicate that Leriche also understands full well the political nature of these events.

Then there are the “Marijuana Educational Ads ” presented by BestCare online in association with the summit, which explains, “Prevention staff in Jefferson, Grant, Deschutes, and Crook counties have partnered together with Dr. Kevin Sabet and Eric Martin to develop marijuana educational ads to be used to disseminate public health facts.” For questions, BestCare directs folks to call Russ Comer at Grant County, Jessica Jacks at Deschutes County,  and Brenda Comini at Crook County. While the ads may have been developed in 2012, taking calls about them in conjunction with a political event scheduled in 2014 on county phone lines while on county time is illegal and helping to put them on the BestCare summit website certainly qualifies as “posting material to an official website (and approving material to be posted to an official website)” which is forbidden by law.[ii]

Connie Raemakers is the head of Tigard Turns the Tide, which is a non-profit dedicated to fighting youth drug abuse. She is now coordinating the twelve-city tour and she insists: “We are not out to tell voters how to vote,” and says the local groups will not use public funds for their individual stops on the tour. However, a flyer for the event in Oregon City explains how Kevin Sabet, the head of anti-legalization Project SAM, will be there. It explains how it is “made possible by your local Drug-Free Communities Coalitions” (federal grant money) “and the Clackamas County Prevention Coalition” (state money). It directs people to RSVP to Elizabeth Russell at an orecity.k12.or.us email address, which is the domain for the school district in Oregon City. Perhaps even the paper, ink, and printers necessary to make the flyer are state property as well as the contacts list used to determine recipients of the flyer.

Check back tomorrow for the next report in our continuing series, “Oregon Marijuana Election Shenanigans Part IV: The Sheriff’s Reefer Mad ‘Facts’

[i] “I don’t have anybody to send out there. You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away?” – The 911 operator, Josephine County, May 2014, to a woman who was then later choked and raped by her ex-boyfriend, because budget cuts prevented staffing the sheriff’s office on the weekends.

[ii] Common activities that are always undertaken in an official capacity (regardless of time of day or location) and are therefore subject to the requirements or ORS 260.432 include – posting material to an official website (and approving material to be posted to an official website) [and] – drafting or distributing an official publication from the jurisdiction. — Oregon Secretary of State, “Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees ORS 260.432”

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