Kotek Will Give La Mota Political Contributions to Food Bank; Tobias Read, to PCC Foundation

The state’s top Democrats are distancing themselves from the people Shemia Fagan is working for.

GIVING BACK: Tobias Read looks on as Shemia Fagan speaks at a 2022 bill signing. (Brian Brose)

Gov. Tina Kotek, after asking for two investigations into the circumstances around Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s contract moonlighting for the owners of the embattled La Mota cannabis dispensary chain, is pledging to give $75,000 to the Oregon Food Bank—a little more than La Mota, its founders, and a committee run by them gave to her gubernatorial campaign.

Kotek isn’t the only statewide elected official seeking to distance herself from the troubled cannabis company, or the first.

In a filing on Friday, State Treasurer Tobias Read made a $2,000 donation to the Portland Community College Foundation. La Mota’s owners gave Read $1,800 for his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in July 2021.

Salem’s most most powerful lawmaker, Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) also repudiated La Mota on Friday, giving $12,500 from his PAC to Habitat for Humanity to offset earlier contributions from the company.

That means three of the state’s top Democrats are trying to shake their association with the very company and people who Fagan is working for as a consultant. (Fagan has defended her decision to moonlight and maintains she violated no ethics laws. In February, The secretary of state recused herself from oversight of a long-running state audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, which regulates La Mota, so she could take the consulting work with a La Mota affiliate.)

“After everything that has come out about the company and the behavior of its owners in recent weeks,” Read said, “it’s clear that the right thing to do is donate their equivalent contribution to an organization seeking to make our community stronger.”

Kotek’s campaign manager, Meghan Cavanaugh, said the La Mota contributions were “made legally,” but added that Kotek would make the Oregon Food Bank donation “in the interest of transparency and reducing any distraction from the work of the people.” The donation does not yet appear in the state’s political contributions database.

Update, 5 pm Saturday: Executive director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund Oliver Muggli tells WW the fund will give $10,000 to the Oregon Casa Network. La Mota co-founder Aaron Mitchell contributed $10,000 to that PAC in 2020. FuturePac, the campaign fund for Oregon House Democrats, will contribute $20,000 to a suicide prevention nonprofit, Lines for Life.

Pressure is mounting on Fagan from both sides of the aisle. Top Republican lawmakers on Friday asked for her resignation. Kotek asked that the Oregon Government Ethics Commission launch an investigation and asked the same of the Oregon Department of Justice.

Records show that Fagan recused herself from the audit after it was already substantially finished. Records also show that as early as January 2021, Fagan asked audit staff to speak with Rosa Cazares, one of La Mota’s two owners, in determining the scope of the audit. In another email, Cazares sent Fagan a list of topics that appeared to be her wish list for the audit’s findings—including “Heavy Handed Enforcement” and “Micro Management.” (The audit, released just yesterday, advocated loosening some regulations on cannabis licensees that the Audits Division said were hurting the industry.)

What’s intensified scrutiny is that Fagan did not seek written advice from the Ethics Commission on the matter, as is standard for public officials. Nor had she taken any other consulting work in her time in office prior to La Mota. Fagan still declines to hand over a copy of her contract or disclose how much the La Mota affiliate is paying her.

The Oregon Department of Revenue and the IRS have filed more than $7 million in tax liens against Cazares and her partner and La Mota co-owner, Aaron Mitchell, in recent years. The pair has also been sued in Oregon circuit courts 30 times, many of the lawsuits alleging nonpayment of bills. They own dozens of cannabis stores across the state. As the chain’s footprint grew, the couple gained political influence, contributing more than $200,000 in recent years to top Democrats and hosting lavish fundraisers for Fagan and Kotek.

Other Oregon Democrats who received money from La Mota and its owners include U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Ore.), Bureau of Labor & Industries Commissioner Christina Stephenson, Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, former state Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland), Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore). The couple also contributed to the Democratic Party of Oregon and PACs that support Democratic Senate and House candidates.

Kotek, Read and Wagner are the only prominent Democrats so far to offset political contributions from Cazares, Mitchell and La Mota by donating them to charity. Congresswoman Val Hoyle (D-Ore.) gave the money back to La Mota on April 17.

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