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Oregon DOJ Declines To Investigate Ballot Deal Cut By Gov. Kate Brown

<p>Gov. Kate Brown Visits businesses in Hood River on Sept. 29, 2017.</p>

Ericka Cruz Guevarra


Gov. Kate Brown Visits businesses in Hood River on Sept. 29, 2017.

The Oregon Department of Justice won’t investigate a deal Gov. Kate Brown helped etch between union officials and a Nike employee over ballot initiatives, the agency said Wednesday.

In a letter to Oregon Elections Director Steve Trout, the DOJ wrote that a complaint filed over the deal in late July didn’t include information that any of those parties “engaged in intimidation, blackmail, or extortion.”

“Based on our review, we have concluded that a criminal investigation is not warranted in this matter,” reads a letter to Trout from Oregon DOJ Chief Counsel Michael Slauson.

The complaint over the deal, authored by an anonymous party and filed by a Portland resident named Richard Leonetti, suggested Brown and others had engaged in foul play with a closed-door agreement.

Under the agreement, first reported by OPB, labor unions agreed to drop a possible ballot measure that would have forced publicly traded companies to disclose tax information — a proposal Nike disliked. In return, Nike agreed to join unions in opposition to two other ballot measures: Measure 103, which would wall off groceries from some new taxes, and Measure 104, which would force the Legislature to meet a higher bar before it can raise revenue.

Leonetti’s complaint noted that Julia Brim-Edwards, a senior Nike official who had a role in the deal, has created a new PAC called the Common Good Fund. It has been seeded with $100,000 from Nike. Leonetti said that amounted to an improper payment, alleging that the unions dropped their measure in exchange for a new pool of money to aid their opposition to the two other tax measures.

State law prohibits accepting “any consideration” in exchange for hindering or delaying “any part of an initiative, referendum, or recall petition.” Neither Nike nor Brim-Edwards has said why the new PAC was created. It hasn’t reported spending any money.

The DOJ letter suggests criminal justice officials were concerned with “intimidation, blackmail, or extortion,” and that Leonetti’s complaint contained no evidence of those activities. It makes clear the matter is now in the hands of the secretary of state’s office, which could determine whether “any civil or administrative action is appropriate.”

Debra Royal, chief of staff for Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, told OPB on Wednesday the office has not decided how to proceed.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration between public radio stations around the Northwest called the Northwest News Network.