It's crunch time for campaigns trying to land measures on the November ballot. And with less than three weeks left before signatures are due, signature gatherers for a campaign hoping to put legal marijuana before voters are revolting, saying they haven't been paid on time.
At the same time, two complaints—both with connections to another campaign to legalize pot— have surfaced against the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH). Campaign officials are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the upheaval as the clock ticks. Signatures are due July 3.
The snafu over pay emerged on June 5, when nearly 40 signature gatherers for the CRRH campaign were supposed to be paid. The campaign, at that time, was waiting for a big donation, Campaign Director Jersey Deutsch says, and the paychecks weren't handed out until the following Monday, June 9. It's not the first time the campaign had cash flow issues. Several employees had checks bounce in late May.
By the time the late June 5 checks arrived, a small coalition of employees had decided to organize. Eight workers announced they were striking and handed in a scrawled a list of demands [pdf] that included $15 an hour and free pot for medical marijuana patients on staff.
Other items on the list:
•"Actually have some fucking sensitivity training."
•"Longer training periods for new workers."
•"Updates on number of total signatures made public knowledge no less than twice per work week."
Some of the demands, like $15 an hour and overtime pay, were already in the works, Deutsch insists. Others, the campaign says, aren't based in reality.
"I think they put some of those things in there just to raise questions," says Leo Townsell, the campaign's communications director. "If you put in reasonable demands in addition to unreasonable and spurious complaints, to an untrained eye it's going to seem like we have a lot of problems here."
The campaign can add a small contingent of raucous protestors to its list of problems. Demonstrators have showed up outside the campaign's headquarters the last two days, confronting workers who walk through the door, Deutsch says. And they've approached CRRH signature gatherers on the street.
At the same time, two elections complaints have been filed against the campaign—both with connections to Democracy Resources, the firm gathering signatures for a separate pot legalization campaign.
The first complaint [pdf] was filed May 9 by Michael Hanna. Hanna's the former president of Multnomah County's main union, AFSCME Local 88. He's familiar and friendly with former County Chair Jeff Cogen, who now works for Democracy Resources. In his complaint, Hanna says he sees paid signature gatherers working for CRRH often, but he says the campaign hasn't reported spending any money on those workers. Hanna wrote he was concerned the campaign could be paying its employees by the signature, which is illegal in Oregon.
"Unreported expenditures are a red flag that the signature circulators are not being paid on the books," Hanna wrote in the complaint, obtained by the Mercury. "It is apparent that something improper is going on, because signature gatherers have been collecting signatures, but payments made to them have gone unreported."
The Secretary of State's Office declined to investigate the claim, pointing out two political action committees connected with CRRH reported in-kind contributions connected to "wages, salaries and benefits."
"There is no evidence within those records to indicate that either of the committees are violating the pay per signature provision, therefore we will not investigate this allegation."
Even so, Deutsch concedes CRRH was fined for delayed campaign finance reporting.
The second complaint [pdf] came from an employee of Democracy Resources, Kyle Gates. Gates says he was collecting signatures on May 21, when he came across a CRRH signature gatherer named Duncan Lopez on SE Hawthorne. Gates says Lopez told him we was being paid to gather signatures, but Gates noticed the man wasn't toting a signature sheet reserved for paid employees. Instead he was using e-sheets, signature forms that can be printed off the internet and are supposed to be used by volunteers, the complaint says.
"He told me he was being paid, but had been instructed to carry the e-sheets until he received his Circulator ID," Gates wrote in the complaint, referring to the ID the State of Oregon issues to approved professional signature gatherers. "This is a serious breach of the rules as I understand them, and I decided to report this incident in order to protect the integrity of the initiative system."
The CRRH campaign concedes that activity was problematic, and told the Secretary of State's Office it arose from a misunderstanding. The campaign says it's taken steps to make amends, and immediately destroyed Lopez's signature sheets. It was unclear Friday whether there was a formal finding in the case.
CRRH also alleges Democracy Resources, and Gates in particular, has tried to poach its signature gatherers, offering higher pay. The Mercury asked Townsell and Deutsch what they made of those actions, and neither would say much.
"If you're asking whether New Approach is deliberately sabotaging our work, we don't believe that's the case," Townsell says. "We can;t be thinking we have an enemy in a campaign with similar ideas."
Even so, there's been a curious undercurrent of tension between the campaigns. Paul Stanford, a chief petitioner behind CRRH who succeeded in getting a legalization measure on the 2012 ballot, says he was involved in the early stages of New Approach Oregon before the campaign shut him out, spurring him to file his own measures.
And earlier this year, a Canby attorney held up New Approach Oregon's first try at an initiative petition in the Supreme Court, saying he preferred Stanford's proposal. Stanford told the Mercury he didn't know the man.
CRRH has a long way to go if it hopes to get both of its measures—a constitutional amendment and a change to state law—before voters. It's still roughly 75,000 signatures short for one, and nearly 50,000 signatures short for the other, according to numbers Deutsch provided.
Still, he says: "We are 100 percent confident we will be able to make the ballot."