Attorney For Foes Of Oregon Governor, Unions Authored Secretive Elections Complaint

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Aug. 27, 2018 5:25 p.m.

A recent election complaint against Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a senior Nike employee and two public-employee union officials was authored by an attorney affiliated with political enemies of both Brown and unions.

Portland lawyer Jill Gibson acknowledged Friday that she'd drafted a complaint filed with the Oregon Secretary of State's office on July 24 by a Portland man named Richard Leonetti. Gibson's involvement in the matter had not formerly been disclosed—Leonetti refused to say who wrote the complaint he filed.


The document took aim at a deal Brown helped broker in early July. Under the agreement, public-sector employee unions agreed to withdraw a ballot measure proposal which would require some Oregon companies to disclose tax information, if major corporations like Nike would help fend off two anti-tax measures on this November's ballot. Around the time the deal was struck, Nike donated $100,000 to a new political action committee controlled by Julia Brim-Edwards, a senior Nike employee.

Leonetti and Gibson believe that amounted to a breach of state law. They suggest that the $100,000 will be spent to help public-sector unions fend off Measures 103 and 104 in the November election, and amount to an illegal payoff to unions to kill their own tax disclosure measure. Oregon law prohibits accepting "any consideration" in exchange for hindering or delaying "any part of an initiative, referendum, or recall petition."


State investigators weren’t convinced. The Oregon Department of Justice declined to investigate the complaint because it didn’t see any suggestion of “intimidation, blackmail, or extortion.”

That prompted an email from Gibson to a DOJ official, saying she was “concerned that your office failed to review [Leonetti's] actual allegations, and instead mistakenly focused on whether blackmail or extortion occurred.”

DOJ spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said Friday that the department stood by its decision not to pursue the matter. The Secretary of State’s Office still must decide whether to look into the deal as a possible election law violation.

“It appears that the DOJ didn’t focus on the allegation and hasn’t given it due consideration,” Gibson said.

Gibson’s decision to weigh in on the matter revealed new information about who was taking issue with the deal. Leonetti told OPB in July that he hadn’t written the complaint he filed, but refused to say who did, or what their affiliations were.

In a conversation Friday, Gibson didn’t offer much more detail. While acknowledging she was the complaint’s author, she would not say who’d hired her to draft it.

A former attorney for Oregon House Republicans, Gibson has worked with Priority Oregon, the dark money group that’s launched attack ads against Brown for much of the year. And she’s represented clients who sought to unravel public-employee unions’ ability to gather payments from non-members. Those payments were deemed illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.