The money supporting legalizing marijuana through Oregon’s Measure 91 is messy. You need a timeline and map to follow all the moving money. However, with strict campaign reporting laws enforced by the Secretary of State, it’s easier to track this kind of green than the illegal kind.
There are three Political Actions Committees (PACs) in support of Measure 91 – Yes on 91, New Approach Oregon and Drug Policy Action of Oregon. A large portion of the money raised has been transferred from one of the other PACs, in a shuffle that resembles a street hustler moving a pea around under shells.
Drug Policy Action of Oregon PAC is the simplest to track, which isn’t saying much. The PAC is on record donating $240,000 –—$90,000 to Yes on 91 PAC and $150,000 to the New Approach Oregon PAC.
But Drug Policy Action actually has contributed an estimated $1.4 million, using variations on the name including Drug Policy Alliance and Drug Policy Action Fund for Oregon.
A group in New York calling itself Drug Policy Alliance uses its Political Action Committee, Drug Policy Action, to funnel money to campaigns. The Oregon branch, named the Drug Policy Action Fund of Oregon, associates with an Oregon address. George Soros is one of the largest donors to the Drug Policy Alliance (the organization behind the Drug Policy Action committee), donating $5 million dollars to the alliance annually.
The Yes on 91 PAC has raised $2.1 million this year, reporting $775,000 still on hand. The majority of the money in this PAC came from the other two PACs. New Approach Oregon gave $700,000 and $500,000 came from New Approach PAC. Another $900,000 came from Drug Policy Action and Drug Policy Action of Oregon.
Despite being the largest PAC and raising $3.3 million this year, New Approach Oregon only has about $150,000 left on hand. For the most part, the money going into this supportive PAC has been gathered from a few sources with deep pockets such as Henry van Ameringen, a New York fragrance corporation heir, and Phillip Harvey, an online sex-toy mogul. Each has given at least $100,000.
Then there is New Approach PAC, which you would assume is a political action committee associated with New Approach Oregon. However, New Approach PAC is not officially registered as a PAC. This “other” type of contributor lists a Washington DC address in its campaign reports. The Oregonian has reported family members of the late Peter Lewis, a billionaire insurance executive, are its main benefactors. The only association this “PAC” has to New Approach Oregon is giving it $750,000 and then another $500,000 to Yes on 91.
On the other side of the campaign efforts, it is as clear as it can get. The No on 91 PAC has raised only $168,000 and still has $43,000 on hand, based on numbers supplied by Orestar.
It’s a good thing Measure 91 isn’t as confusing as the money behind it. The convulsion of transfers and similar PAC names mystifies the true players behind the money. Why this strategy, with multiples PACs, multiple surnames and multiple transfers? Who and what is being hidden behind the puff of smoke?
This smoke screen doesn't appear to disturb voters. According to recent polling, Measure 91 is passing with 53 percent certain or likely "yes" voters, with 41 percent against and less than 7 percent undecided. Oregonians voted down a similar measure in the last election cycle, so now the question hangs in the air of whether all the green put down in favor of Measure 91 will roll up into a victory.