Kotek on Fagan’s Moonlighting: “I Don’t Have Outside Employment. I Only Have One Job.”

Kotek said it would be “premature” for her to say whether she thinks Fagan should resign.

Gov. Tina Kotek on the campaign trail. (Blake Benard)

In a Saturday afternoon press conference in Southeast Portland, Gov. Tina Kotek answered a litany of questions about Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s outside consulting contract with the founders of the embattled cannabis dispensary chain La Mota.

“I don’t have outside employment. I only have one job,” Kotek said. “So I can’t speak to what anyone else does.”

When asked if she thinks Fagan should resign over the moonlighting contract, Kotek said it would be premature for her to take a stance.

Kotek says she spoke with Fagan on Friday. “I let her know that I was concerned by the news reports. Anytime confidence in government is undermined, I’m concerned.”

As secretary of state, Fagan is not only the state’s top elections official, she also directs the auditors who inspect state agencies, and the Corporation Division, which registers businesses.

WW first reported on Thursday that Fagan entered into a contract with Veriede Holding LLC, an affiliate company of the La Mota dispensary chain, in February. Fagan recused herself from a long-running audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, the agency that regulates La Mota, in order to take the contract.

Records show, however, that Fagan recused herself one week after the audit was substantially finished—and had asked as early as January 2021 that audit staff speak with Rosa Cazares, one of La Mota’s two owners, to help inform the scope of the audit. La Mota, Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, La Mota co-owner and partner of Cazares, face more than $7 million federal and state liens for unpaid taxes. Even as they were failing to pay their taxes, the couple contributed more than $200,000 to Democratic politicians, including Fagan and Kotek.

When asked Saturday afternoon whether Fagan should make the contract she has with Veriede public—Fagan has declined to do so—Kotek took no position.

“That is certainly her decision to make,” Kotek said, who added that she did not ask Fagan for a copy of the contract or any other details of her consulting work.

Kotek also did not answer questions about whether a secretary of state should be allowed to recuse herself from an audit—one of the primary and functions of the job—in order to take outside employment.

“For me, it’s always about transparency and the perception of good ethical conduct,” Kotek said. “In terms of the recusal, that was a tool she took advantage of, from the advice of the [Oregon Government] Ethics Commission, per my understanding. At the end of the day, it’s always safest to have a strong firewall between the work that’s in your office and what you do personally.”

On Friday, Kotek told WW she would give $75,000 to the Oregon Food Bank—slightly more than La Mota’s founders, Mitchell and Cazares, gave to her gubernatorial campaign. She said she gave the contributions back this week—instead of a month ago, when WW first asked if she would during the reporting on La Mota—because “I just want this thing to be clear that, there’s nothing to see here. I’m transparent.”

Kotek says she has not spoken with Cazares or Mitchell since WW’s March 29 cover story detailing the company’s issues.

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