Holton takes issue with Rosenblum campaign money

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Associated Press

Posted on May 15, 2012 at 5:02 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 15 at 9:03 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A month ago, Oregon attorney general candidate Dwight Holton was taking heat for campaign contributions from out of state. Now, he's the one giving it.

Holton says his rival, Ellen Rosenblum, is wrong to say she'll make marijuana enforcement a "low priority" after taking money from pro-marijuana interests.

His criticism of Oregon's medical marijuana law has emerged as a surprising issue in the Democratic primary, and pro-pot interests have pumped at least $140,000 into Rosenblum's campaign. Other marijuana groups have spent thousands more on independent efforts like radio ads not tied to Rosenblum's official campaign.

The candidates for attorney general and other races are making a final push to rally supporters and sway undecided voters as the clock ticks closer to Tuesday's 8 p.m. deadline for ballots to be returned.

Holton has called Oregon's medical marijuana law a "train wreck," saying it provides cover to criminals who want to grow weed for the black market. Rosenblum also has said the law needs work but said she won't devote many resources to marijuana cases.

A campaign arm of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance has given Rosenblum $70,000, state campaign finance records indicate.

She got another $70,000 from John Sperling, chairman of Apollo Group Inc., the parent company of University of Phoenix, who has financed pro-medical marijuana causes. The Sperling contribution appeared in campaign finance records as a second check from Drug Policy Alliance, but a campaign official said that was a clerical error.

The two contributions are about 25 percent of Rosenblum's total cash haul.

"I don't think you should go to any special industry group ... and promise to make the law that regulates them a low priority," Holton said Saturday. "As a person who's been in law enforcement for 15 years, I just find it really remarkable."

He also wants Rosenblum, a retired appeals court judge, to disclose her last-minute campaign donors immediately. He says voters should know if she's received any more money from pro-marijuana interests.

Cynara Lilly, a Rosenblum spokeswoman, said the campaign has followed the law, which requires candidates to disclose contributions within seven days of receiving them.

"That's sort of political game-playing to make those kinds of claims, and I would expect nothing less of Dwight Holton and his campaign," she said.

Until Rosenblum's recent influx of money from drug policy groups, Holton had a significant cash advantage, and Rosenblum criticized his fundraising from donors living outside Oregon. Holton, the son of a former Virginia governor who worked in President Bill Clinton's administration, has strong political connections. He has raised about half his money from outside Oregon, compared with 40 percent for Rosenblum.

Holton was the state's top federal prosecutor when federal agents raided marijuana farms that, according to the owners, were growing pot for medicinal use. Authorities said the farms were producing marijuana that ended up on the black market.

The Drug Policy Alliance supported Oregon's 1998 ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana and is a leading opponent of the federal government's longstanding "war on drugs."

"If Dwight Holton loses, we hope it sends a clear message to U.S. attorneys around the country that thwarting the will of the voters and denying sick patients access to their medicine is not a path to political career advancement," said Jill Harris, the organization's managing director of strategic initiatives.

Apollo Group officials did not immediately respond to a message requesting an interview with Sperling.

Twenty-five percent of Democrats had returned their ballots by Monday morning, along with 28 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of unaffiliated voters.

Republicans are voting on their party's nominee to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama, although Mitt Romney has all but won the contest.

The ballot also includes a handful of competitive legislative races, elections for mayors and city council members, vacancies on the state appellate courts, and local ballot measures.

It's too late for ballots to be mailed, so state officials say voters who haven't returned them should drop them into an official drop box.

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