Monaghan, 29, started writing a twice-monthly, right-leaning column for the daily in August 2012. He was a contractor, not an employee, and was thus free to take other work.
He agreed to run other contracts past Oregonian editorial page editor Erik Lukens before taking them. And he did.
But last month, Lukens abruptly canceled Monaghan’s column, citing a conflict of interest that emails show Lukens had known about for more than a year: a consulting job Monaghan held for a conservative group opposing the CRC.
Back in January 2013, Monaghan emailed Lukens, seeking permission to contract with Leona Consulting, a new company founded by GOP political consultant Lindsay Berschauer.
“Berschauer is leaving the Oregon Transformation Project and is starting her own consulting firm,” Monaghan wrote in an email to Lukens on Jan. 22, 2013. “She wants me to research and produce weekly ‘Flashfacts’ and do related social media/video work. Can I take the job?”
“That should be fine,” Lukens replied the next day. “I don’t see any problems.”
Berschauer’s firm began working against the CRC, placing highway billboards and hiring a lobbyist to work the 2013 legislative session.
Monaghan also took aim at the project.
He wrote “Unhappiness on All Sides” (Feb. 14, 2013), on the eve of Oregon lawmakers’ vote to fund the CRC, and “Requiem for a Boondoggle” (July 4, 2013), after the Washington Legislature declined to match Oregon’s $450 million appropriation for the project.
Those editorials were no match for the unceasing flow of pro-CRC pieces Lukens’ team produced for The Oregonian.
Following the Washington Legislature’s refusal to fund the CRC last summer, Gov. John Kitzhaber cooked up an Oregon-only project, with a slimmed-down price tag of $2.8 billion.
In a Feb. 13 column in The Oregonian, Monaghan touched on the question of whether Oregon lawmakers would vote to proceed with the CRC in their February session, referring to the project as “a potential $2.8 billion present from Salem” to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
That would be Monaghan’s last word on the CRC in the pages of the state’s largest newspaper.
On Feb. 17, Lukens emailed Monaghan, asking about his political consulting work.
Monaghan says he told Lukens his objections to the CRC predated his writing for The Oregonian and the creation of Berschauer’s company.
“My opinions on the CRC are my own, and I arrived at them through a variety of publicly available sources,” he tells WW.
Lukens didn’t buy that.
“The problem isn’t that you worked for Leona, which would have been OK if you had avoided writing columns about matters in which Leona was involved,” Lukens wrote to Monaghan in a Feb. 18 email. “The particular problem I see here is that you wrote numerous columns about the CRC, for which we paid you, during the very same period in which Leona was being paid to oppose the CRC.”
Monaghan replied via email that Berschauer never asked him to write about the CRC and that he valued his Oregonian column more than his Leona contract. That did not sway Lukens.
“After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve decided that we’re going to stop using your column,” Lukens wrote Feb. 18.
Lukens declined to comment on the decision to end Monaghan’s column. “I can tell you that it’s not as stated,” he told WW. “Beyond that, I’m really not going to talk about it.”
Monaghan says he was “shocked” by Lukens’ decision, because he felt he’d been transparent in seeking permission to work for Berschauer and had never been told there was a problem.
He suspects CRC advocates did him in.
“Who would have wanted me fired?” Monaghan says. “It’s a little bit like ‘who shot J.R.?’ It could have been anybody who supports the CRC. That’s a lot of people.”