Top Republican leaders today called for Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan to resign after she admitted to WW on April 27 that she’s been moonlighting for two months as a consultant to an affiliate of the embattled La Mota cannabis dispensary chain.
Fagan quietly recused herself in February from a state audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, an agency from which La Mota’s owners, Rosa Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, received more than 50 licenses. But records first obtained today by WW show that the final draft of the audit had already been completed a week before her recusal.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) and House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson (R-Prineville) said on Friday that Fagan should step down.
“She must resign,” the two GOP leaders said in a joint statement, citing WW’s reporting. “This appears to be an ethics violation and, if it isn’t, then Oregon’s ethics laws are broken. An elected official cannot take funds for personal use from someone they regulate.”
Records obtained by WW on Friday show Fagan asked audit staff on Dec. 13, 2021, whether they had consulted with Cazares for the audit.
In a subsequent meeting in June 2022 about the scope of the audit, Fagan once again asked if auditors had spoken to Cazares about a particular incident the La Mota CEO had relayed to her.
In the notes from the meeting provided to WW under a public records request, Fagan’s comments focus almost entirely on making sure auditors heeded the concerns of Cazares, who, along with her partner, Mitchell, contributed $45,000 to Fagan’s election campaign and hosted two fundraisers for her.
The Audits Division did, indeed, interview Cazares for the audit in February 2022. In that interview, according to obtained notes, Cazares alleged the OLCC was sexist and ageist and didn’t support people of color. “She thinks if Aaron had been the face of their company, things would have gone very differently,” the interviewer wrote.
The Secretary of State’s Office contends that neither Fagan nor Cazares influenced the final draft of the audit.
Fagan did not ask for written advice from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission about the consulting work for the La Mota affiliate, a standard practice for public officials facing questions about ethics.
In their joint statement, the GOP leaders said Fagan’s position was untenable. “The secretary of state oversees audits for the state of Oregon,” they said. “In no way could the top elected official ethically work a ‘side gig’ for a company engaged in the industry in which the secretary is responsible for auditing and regulating.”
Republicans have asked Democratic legislative leaders to form an Oversight and Accountability Committee to examine the OLCC, the subject of today’s audit, and other issues. They say Democrats have not responded.
“We have tried to work with our colleagues across the aisle to defend democracy in Oregon and hold our agencies and officials accountable,” Knopp said. “Democrats have remained silent; if forced to do so, we will move forward on our own.”