Three Former Secretaries of State Say Fagan Should Resign Over Private Consulting Contract

The secretary of state’s work for an embattled major donor paid far more than her state salary.

Former Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins.

Three former Oregon secretaries of state say current Secretary of State Shemia Fagan should resign over a $10,000-a-month private consulting contract she signed with the owners of an embattled cannabis dispensary chain who were also major donors to her campaign.

Fagan apologized Monday for taking the unusual step for a statewide official of moonlighting—a decision made more unusual by the fact that her consulting work was with the owners of a chain that has failed to meet its obligations to state and federal tax authorities and, allegedly, numerous creditors.

“I owe the people of Oregon an apology,” Fagan said Monday. “I exercised poor judgment by contracting with a company that is owned by my significant political donors and is regulated by an agency that was under audit by my Audits Division.”

But for people who have done her job, the apology cannot undo the damage.

Phil Keisling, a Democrat who served as secretary of state from 1991 to 1999, says with “deep sadness and dismay” that he thinks Fagan should resign.

“The bad judgments, lack of due diligence and transparency, and failure to immediately cancel this ill-advised contract once millions in tax liens and unpaid bills came to light have done incalculable damage to Oregonians’ trust in [the] agency and its dedicated employees,” Keisling says. “How soon—or even if—the agency and its staff can fully regain that trust is a big unknown. But as long as she remains in office, Secretary Fagan’s efforts to earn back the trust she broke—so quickly, deeply and unnecessarily—will inevitably distract from, and likely impede, that recovery.”

Two others joined Keisling in saying Fagan should throw in the towel.

Bev Clarno, who served as secretary of state from 2019, following the death of Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, until January 2021, says she doesn’t think demands of overseeing the Elections, Audits and Corporation divisions and the State Archives leave any time for moonlighting.

“There aren’t enough hours in the day to do that job well and have time left over for other work,” Clarno says.

She says the apology Fagan issued Monday cannot undo the error in judgment she made.

“Although I’m a Republican, this is not a partisan issue,” Clarno says. “I have the greatest respect for Phil Keisling and I stand with his opinion that she should resign.”

Former Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins is as loyal a Democrat as there is in Oregon. A legislative chief of staff and then state director for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and former chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon who served as secretary of state from 2015 to 2017, Atkins says she is deeply disappointed in Fagan.

“I appreciate that Secretary Fagan has recognized her error in judgment and cancelled this contract. But this was a huge mistake and I think today’s actions are unlikely to undo the damage done to the office and the voters’ confidence in their government,” says Atkins. “She needs to resign.”

That means three people who once served in the same office that Fagan occupies are saying she’s eroded trust so deeply in voters that there’s no fixing it.

Part of Fagan’s challenge is that she waited so long to take action. WW first informed Fagan on March 24 about the millions in liens for unpaid taxes that the cannabis couple and the companies they control face.

Fagan directed questions to La Mota and made no mention of her consulting contract. Soon after, WW published its findings about La Mota and its owners in a March 29 cover story. It was not until May 1 that Fagan said she would give the remaining balance in her campaign account to the Oregon Humane Society to offset the $45,000 that La Mota’s owners contributed to her.

One problem: Fagan’s PAC currently holds just over $16,000.

A spokesman for Fagan referred WW to her comments during a Monday press conference at which Fagan said she looked forward to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission finding that she violated no ethics laws.

Read all of WW’s coverage of Fagan’s moonlighting here.

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