In May, Oregon’s largest private- sector labor union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 (or UFCW), opted to file a recall petition against State Representative Paul Holvey. The filing documents provided a litany of anti-labor votes taken by Holvey over the past several years, but the flashpoint seemed to be Holvey’s role in blocking the union’s top priority bill to expand workers’ organizing rights into the cannabis industry.
The move was unorthodox, because failing to support a particular bill rarely leads to a recall effort. But new details allege that Holvey may have been influenced by big-money contributions from the same cannabis company that reportedly paid to influence the now-resigned Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.
Such a revelation recasts the motivation of the recall campaign from simple frustrations of “one disgruntled union,” as Holvey describes it, to a continuing effort to root out a corrupting influence that has already ended the career of one statewide official.
Several months before the 2023 Legislative Session began, the founders of scandal-plagued cannabis company La Mota gave $20,000 in cash to the leadership of the Oregon House Democratic Caucus. (Transaction 1, Transaction 2) The money didn’t go directly to Rep. Paul Holvey; it was delivered to FuturePAC, the political arm of House Democratic leadership, which lists Holvey as part of its leadership team on the State Legislature’s website. However, Holvey’s own committee would end up benefiting from the caucus’ cash through in-kind contributions down the road. It’s quite common for a partisan caucus to receive donations from big-moneyed interests with a stake in legislative outcomes. What is rare, however, is to catch lawmakers blatantly affecting the course of legislation as a result.
In September 2022, around the same time that FuturePAC was receiving La Mota’s cash, labor advocates with UFCW were engaging in outreach to Holvey as they prepared legislation to close labor organizing rights loopholes in the cannabis industry. Because Holvey chaired the House Business & Labor Committee, he would likely have significant sway as to whether the bill would pass. Holvey dodged having the discussion up until early in 2023, when after reportedly being prodded by new House Speaker Dan Rayfield — Holvey confirmed receipt of the concept and offered no questions or concerns.
For the next several months, UFCW 555 worked to add sponsors to the legislation, HB 3183, and negotiate with potential opponents. By the time the bill was ready for passage, supporters included every Democrat on Holvey’s committee aside from himself. Serious opponents were limited to two Koch Industries-funded think tanks (Americans for Prosperity and the Reason Foundation), and a letter from Amy Margolis, the attorney for La Mota, on behalf of cannabis industry owners. In a letter entered into the public record, La Mota’s attorney bluntly wrote to Holvey: “As HB 3183 is presented we strongly oppose it and hope that... this bill does not move."
By a committee meeting on March 29 (see video), advocates and lawmakers alike were of the understanding that the bill was primed for passage to the House Floor. It wasn’t until lawmakers noticed that Holvey’s committee staff hadn’t bothered to prepare a full fiscal report, which would have been required for passage, before supporters came to realize that Holvey did not intend to pass the bill to the House Floor.
The morning Committee meeting came and went without action on HB 3183. It wasn’t until after significant pressure by his colleagues that Holvey’s Committee came back into session at 5:30pm that day to begrudgingly move the bill to the Rules Committee (see video), but since Holvey still refused to give the bill an official recommendation, it was likely dead.
Holvey would later characterize that maneuver as a possible way to keep the bill alive, but the facts don’t bear that out. Since 2007 (the beginning of online legislative records), sending a bill to Rules without a recommendation has been performed 415 times, with most bills resulting in failure. But to do so on a party line vote prior to any other action being taken on the bill is even more unorthodox and has only resulted in a successful bill 4 times in the last 16 years. Holvey has never kept a bill alive in such a manner.
Two weeks later, Holvey would receive a memo from Legislative Counsel that he characterized as having “confirmed that the proposed legislation ... would not be legal,” and used that as a justification for his tanking of the bill. But Legislative attorneys took issue with that characterization, asserting that the memos given to Holvey “were not definitive as to the actual result if the issues were to be litigated.”
In fact, given that states like California and New York have had nearly identical laws in place for several years without any substantial challenges, it is unlikely the more narrowly- tailored Oregon bill would have drawn any litigation. Even so, Holvey is no stranger to passing legislation on shaky legal grounds: His support of SB 822 pension cuts in 2013 landed the State on the losing end of a Supreme Court battle.
Meanwhile, the money from La Mota has found its way back into Holvey’s account after passing through FuturePAC: aside from several thousand dollars in in-kind contributions, the House Democratic Leadership is now directing FuturePAC-supported lawmakers to send large contributions Holvey’s way as a result of the recall. And in the last few days, at least two cannabis industry lobbyists have made Facebook posts pledging to personally travel to Eugene to campaign for Holvey.
Whether they are successful will now be up to voters.