Even as the campaign to legalize marijuana tried to gather momentum in Oregon last fall, another countervailing force was slowly taking form: A federal lawsuit against the chief organizer of the Campaign for the Restoration & Regulation of Hemp (CRRH) had begun to take shape.

Filed last March, the lawsuit accuses Paul Stanford, the chief petitioner for the measure, of swindling nearly $100,000 from its largest donor, Bruce McKinney, a Seattle-based entrepreneur. The money was given as support for the campaign. But, as early as November 1999, according to testimony and court documents obtained by the Mercury, supporters of CRRH began to doubt Stanford's efforts were completely legitimate, ethical or legal; specifically, the lawsuit charges that Stanford failed to repay tens of thousands loaned to him and mismanaged campaign funds. Fearful that any shady behavior by Stanford threatens to disrepute the entire campaign to legalize marijuana, critics have remained tight-lipped.

CRRH maintains a website for publicity and fundraising efforts. To this day, that site falsely claims to have gathered 78,640 signatures for the November ballot. The Secretary of State's Election Division only counted 44,726 signatures.

Confronted with this discrepancy, Stanford maintains the number of signatures he alleges to have collected is accurate. He asserts that low-cost photocopying and oversights by volunteer petitioners caused "tens of thousands" of signatures to be rejected. According to the Election Division, however, only five hundred signatures were thrown out.

Shortly after McKinney withdrew his support and filed suit against Stanford in March, Stanford began to make impassioned pleas for more donations. According to former campaigners, Stanford began to claim that CRRH had nearly obtained enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. With just a little more money to help finance signature gatherers and publicity, Stanford allegedly told potential donors, the measure would make it. It didn't; and now many wonder what happened to those donations as well.

"I never doubted his convictions," said one former supporter, who preferred to remain anonymous. "The way he went about getting things done was wrong for his volunteers, for the movement."

The lawsuit now has reached a critical point, as witnessed have been summoned. Stanford, meanwhile, plans to pursue a counterclaim, alleging defamation of character.