Failed Senate candidate follows the trail paved by Bill Sizemore, Kevin Mannix, and Loren Parks
Monica Wehby may not be running for governor in 2016, but she’s still able to attract gobs of attention from the press—and just as with her spectacularly failed Senate race last year, it’s all one embarrassing story after another.
First, her consultants announced to the press that prominent state and national leaders were courting her to run for governor, and that she was considering it. But when pressed for details—like who, exactly, thinks it’s a good idea for her to run for statewide office—her handlers refused to divulge any. Within a matter of days, Wehby had to announce that she changed her mind and won’t run.
The latest round of bad news for Wehby is a sprawling expose in the Oregonian detailing the financial dealings of her not-at-all-vainly-named MonicaPAC, which she formed earlier this year for dubious purposes. (If you haven’t read it yet, open this link in a new tab and then come back here when you’re done.)
The short version:
“…Monica PAC has spent 80 percent of its cash donations on a small group of consultants led by a newcomer to Oregon politics.
“Monica PAC has taken in $170,000 in cash donations. Of that, $106,000 went to Sonoran (Policy Group), and $32,000 to three Sonoran officers who submitted bills to the PAC under the names of businesses they own. The officers are Christian Bourge of the Washington, D.C., area, Kathy McDonald of Vancouver and Eugene-area attorney Jacob Daniels.
“Daniels, in turn, is Monica PAC’s treasurer. The arrangement, while legal, raises eyebrows among political observers.”
In other words, MonicaPAC has taken in nearly $200,000 from big donors, and most of that has gone into the pockets of a very small group of individuals. Ostensibly, the money is to build a software program called “Trusted Messenger” that will search social media for mentions of your candidate (apparently ignoring the fact that Facebook and Twitter already have built-in search engines). They’ve even convinced the Oregon House Republicans to join into the scheme.
But the head of Sonoran, Robert D. Stryk, has a long list of history of “legal and financial disputes” across the country, according to the Oregonian, including unpaid bills and lien against a wine tasting property in Eugene for unpaid rent and legal fees. Now, the MonicaPAC is paying him a lot of money to produce something that no one, not even their supporters, can really explain.
If it sounds to you like a shell game designed solely to enrich a few Republican consultants with shady pasts… well, you’re not alone. And if you think this story sounds reeeeeally, reeeeeeeally familiar, that’s because it is.
The Oregonian calls Wehby’s tangled web of campaign spending “unusual,” but for prominent statewide Republicans in Oregon, these practices are all too commonplace. Wehby isn’t pioneering some Ponzi scheme here; she’s merely following in the shady footsteps of Bill Sizemore, Kevin Mannix, and Loren Parks.
In addition to multiple runs for governor, Republican Bill Sizemore spent more than a decade benefiting from Oregon’s initiative system, collecting paychecks to churn out initiative after initiative, mostly to cut taxes for the rich and attack workers. When his organizations were caught using forged signatures and violating finance laws, he was barred by a judge from running political or nonprofit organizations.
In an apparent attempt to avoid the judgment against him — and to avoid paying taxes — Sizemore set up a nonprofit that took in money to allegedly build a website that analyzed tax structures from state to state. Most of the money came from Nevada millionaire Loren Parks and some came from Jeld-Wen founder Dick Wendt, as The Oregonian reported.
But after years of “development,” no website was produced, and it turned out that the whole thing was a sham. Sizemore had been using the nonprofit’s funds for his own personal gain, including “a car for his wife, braces for his daughter, part of a time-share apartment in Mexico and 15 1-ounce gold pieces.”
Ultimately, Sizemore was sent to jail for contempt of court and was later convicted of tax evasion.
Like Sizemore, Republican Kevin Mannix made multiple unsuccessful runs at statewide office. And like Sizemore, Mannix benefitted greatly from the state’s initiative system… and Loren Parks’ largesse.
For years, Mannix spun an enormously complex web of financial entanglements, including political action committees, 501(c)(3) foundations, 501(c)(4) nonprofits, a veterans’ charity, for-profit companies, and his own law practice.
Following the strings in Mannix’s web of spending is an exhausting exercise, which is probably the point. Reporters have occasionally tried to put the pieces together, but the results have been just a small peek into his practices.
From the Oregonian in 2013:
“During his 2002 campaign for governor, The Oregonian reported that two foundations directed by Mannix — and that were largely funded by contributions from a separate foundation controlled by [Loren] Parks — had steered at least $327,000 in work to his law firm and an associated business.
“In a 2006 story, Zaitz calculated that Mannix’s business and personal accounts had received $838,000 in the past decade from political committees and foundations that he had controlled.”
The latest scandal, which has been unfolding for the past few years, involves Mannix’s ties to the Oregon War Veterans Association, which funneled $1.1 million to his political committees and businesses (apparently from Parks). OWVA has been under investigation by the Department of Justice for doing very little to actually help veterans, but doing a lot to enrich Greg Warnock, the organization’s founder.
The Department of Justice has filed a bar complaint against Mannix stemming from his involvement with OWVA.
From The Oregonian:
“The bar complaint says that records of the charity’s financial records revealed a clear pattern.
“Mr. Mannix would meet or otherwise communicate with the donor, and the donor would make a substantial donation” to the charity, the bar complaint says. “Once the donation was received, it would be followed by substantial payments to the Mannix organizations and to Mr. Warnock or entities Mr. Warnock controlled.”
“The bar complaint says that the charity also gave $505,000 to Oregon Excellence, a business Mannix owned that produced reports on a variety of subjects. In addition, the charity turned over about $500,000 to a variety of political groups Mannix set up to push for tougher criminal laws and other policies.
That included $110,000 in donations to help pay off past Mannix campaign debts he owed to his law firm.
The complaint charged that Mannix also received $90,000 in legal fees from the charity for what the department alleged was about 40 hours of work – and 15 of those hours was time that “Mr. Mannix spent on a fishing trip he took with Mr. Warnock and the charity’s major donor. Sources said that refers to Parks, who is an avid fisherman.“
The bottom line: Wehby and her consultants appear to be using the same time-honored tradition of Oregon Republicans abusing the campaign finance system in order to funnel enormous amounts of money to their pockets and the pockets of shady consultants.