PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s Secretary of State is defending her decision to moonlight as a consultant for the owners of a troubled marijuana dispensary chain. At the same time, state Republican leaders accused Shemia Fagan of ethics violations and called on her to resign.
"An elected official cannot take funds for personal use from someone they regulate,” Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp and House Republican leader Vikki Breese-Iverson said in a joint statement.
Gov. Tina Kotek also spoke out on the issue Friday evening, calling for the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to investigate Fagan's actions and for the Oregon Department of Justice to look into a recent audit of cannabis industry regulations.
"It’s critical that Oregonians trust their government," Kotek said in a statement. "That is why I am urging the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to immediately investigate this situation. Additionally, I am requesting that the Oregon Department of Justice examine the Secretary of State’s recently released audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) and its cannabis program."
As Willamette Week first reported, Fagan started working for the owners of La Mota in February. The company and associated businesses have racked up millions of dollars in unpaid taxes and face numerous lawsuits for not paying their bills, according to court records. Simultaneously, Rosa Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, owners of La Mota made big donations to top Democrats, including Fagan.
It’s not clear what type of work Fagan is doing or how much she’s being paid for her side-gig. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State explained Fagan is consulting on projects outside of Oregon.
The situation is complicated by the fact Fagan oversees state audits, which included the audit of Oregon’s regulations on the cannabis industry — the very industry in which she’s been hired to act a as a consultant. Friday, during a press conference about the audit’s findings, Audit Director Kip Memmott explained Fagan recused herself from involvement after taking the consulting job.
“The secretary was not involved in the reporting process, reviewing the report, providing feedback on the report or any of the conclusions at all,” said Memmott.
Several news organizations have reported Fagan was involved in the audit dating back to early last year and the audit was largely done by the time Fagan pulled out.
As Oregon’s Secretary of State, Fagan earns $77,000 each year.
While unusual, it is not unheard of for statewide elected officials to take on side-jobs. Fagan also teaches part time at Willamette University.
Prior to taking the consulting gig in February, emails provided by the Secretary of State’s office indicate Fagan reached out to a state ethics investigator asking for clarity on conflicts of interest. Oregon law bars public officials from using their positions for personal gain. Fagan did not seek a formal opinion from the state ethics commission.
A spokesperson for the Secretary of State argued that because she voluntarily recused herself from the audit, Fagan faces no conflict of interest.
“Secretary Fagan prioritizes her public service and completes any work for her private contracts during her free time,” wrote spokesperson Ben Morris in a statement.