Avakian campaign says claims of wrongdoing politically motivated
By Claire Withycombe Capital Bureau
Published on October 24, 2016 8:13PM
Last changed on October 25, 2016 10:11AM
SALEM – Brad Avakian’s campaign denied wrongdoing following accusations made Monday that his campaign fund paid government employees for campaign work, and that the work may have been done on state time.
Avakian, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, is the head of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
In an opinion piece
Monday on Forbes.com, Adam Andrzejewski, of Open The Books, a private transparency group, claimed that three of Avakian’s employees were paid money out of Avakian’s campaign fund and that two of those employees also contributed to Avakian’s campaign for secretary of state.
The piece alleges BOLI communications director Charlie Burr, BOLI legislative director Paloma Sparks and Jesse Bontecou, Avakians executive assistant, were paid a total of $3,500 from Avakian’s campaign fund in 2014 and 2015.
Brad Pyle, Avakian’s campaign manager, said payments from the campaign fund, the Committee to Elect Brad Avakian, to three BOLI employees in 2014 and 2015 were "fairly routine" holiday bonuses.
Bontecou, who previously worked as Avakian’s campaign manager during his 2011 bid for Congress, was hired as his executive assistant at BOLI in late 2013, according to Andrzejewski.
Andrzejewski claims campaign records show Bontecou received $1,000 from Avakian’s campaign fund in 2014 and donated $220 to Avakian’s campaign fund in 2016.
Andrzejewski also claimed Bontecou posted political endorsements of Avakian on social media during "official BOLI business hours."
Pyle said bonuses BOLI employees received in 2014 and 2015 were in appreciation for "advice and counsel" given in those years.
He said that to his knowledge, BOLI employees did not engage in campaign work on state time.
Pyle also said volunteers, including BOLI employees, have "supported" Avakian’s campaigns in "a variety of ways."
"It is also worth noting that some BOLI employees are former campaign employees," Pyle wrote. "…These bonuses were issued in appreciation for providing advice and counsel but the volunteers had no expectation of payment."
Oregon law says that public employees cannot engage in political advocacy on the job.
Andrzejewski also raised questions about redactions in public calendars for BOLI employees obtained by a watchdog group, the Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation, through a public records request.
Under Oregon’s public records law, public employee’s calendars are considered public records, with an exemption for personal appointments.
Calendars for the three employees for an eight-month period in 2015 included 1,660 redacted entries, a number of personal appointments inconsistent with personal time claimed by the employees on payroll records, Andrzejewski claimed.
Andrzejewski claimed the agency "stalled" on the Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation request.
Jeff Kropf, the executive director of the Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation, who made the initial requests for employee calendars, payroll, travel and reimbursement information, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Charlie Burr, a spokesman for BOLI and one of the employees who received a bonus and made a contribution to Avakian’s campaign committee, deferred questions about campaign funds to the campaign. He said that the public records request made by Kropf to BOLI was filled in a timely manner. "We did not delay the release of the records and in fact, waived fees for the original portion of the request," Burr wrote in an email Monday. We fulfilled the calendar portion of the request eight calendar days after receiving payment."
Pyle said the Forbes piece was politically motivated.
"On the face of this, and digging in to the personal schedules of employees and things like that, this is more of Dennis Richardson and his supporters using public records requests to invade the privacy of public servants of Oregon," Pyle said Monday.
Pyle referred to a 2012 incident in which Richardson, Avakian’s opponent in the race for secretary of state, obtained the emails of thousands of state employees through a public records request and sent messages to those addresses en masse.