Monday, July 10, 2006

Why Did Wayne Scott's Spokesman Lie to Me?

I like to think of myself as a fairly rational person, not so blinded by frustration and cynicism about politics that I can't give politicians the benefit of the doubt sometimes. When the Willamette Week gave its weekly Rogue award to House Majority Leader Wayne Scott, I was disturbed and wrote it up for LO. But then additional information surfaced suggesting that while there was indeed a company given a storage rights monopoly for fireworks in Oregon, it wasn't Wayne Scott's company, but a sister company split off years ago. So we still had Scott helping out a single business, but without apparent financial benefit as the WWeek had implied.

To make sure that was the case, I spoke with Nick Smith, mouthpiece for Scott and the House Majority Office. I asked him several questions to determine the extent of the ties between Scott, president of Western Fireworks, and Western Display Fireworks--the 'sister' company and sole beneficiary of HB667-A. Was he on the payroll of WDF? No. Did he have any financial interest like stocks? No. But surely, I thought, his own company does business with WDF, right? No, was the answer. So I finished up with what I thought was a catch-all: Did Scott have ANY financial connection to Western Display Fireworks? No. None whatsoever, I pressed? No. So why did Scott file a potential conflict of interest disclaimer on the bill? According to Smith, because he runs a fireworks company. (I didn't bother asking how owning a fireworks company would be a conflict of interest, given that only one fireworks company in Oregon can benefit in perpetuity from the bill.)

Having already looked through Scott's C&E report for the 2006 primary, just for giggles I thought I'd check the 2002 and 2004 elections {both files in pdf} as well--since the former would be the election before the 2003 rule change, the latter the election after. And whaddya know, right there on page 109 of the 2002 summary, detailing all of Scott's $50+ contributors: Western Display Fireworks, Ltd...$1,500. (There's also $1,050 from Scott's own company--no real surprise or issue there, I suppose. And no wonder he works so tightly with Speaker Minnis; she dropped $11K on him in the 2002 cycle).

Having gotten incentive to perform, perform the House did, protecting WDF's storage monopoly in the 2003 session. And in the spring of 2004 as Scott campaigned for another term, he was once again graced financially by WDF, this time to the tune of $1,000.

Must one assume nefarious intent with these contributions? Not necessarily. It sure doesn't look good that WDF appears to have given to only one representative in 2002 and 2004*, and that same representative just happens to be the one who helped shepherd their monopoly bill through the chamber--but it doesn't prove any quid pro quo.

On the other hand, you'd think that $2,500 in campaign contributions before and after the bill's passage would constitute a "financial connection" between Wayne Scott and Western Display Fireworks, Ltd. And that--being an honest, open and upright guy doing his job properly--Nick Smith would have mentioned that financial connection when prompted for it.

Something about the whole process surrounding WDF's political windfall stinks. I don't have the full story yet, but more than one person involved in the fireworks industry has come to us willing to provide on the record information about an alleged rat's nest of corruption and favoritism for Scott-connected companies. It went as far as a hearing in the Legislature, where tales surfaced of intimidation, cronyism and back-room dealings between the Majority Leader's Office and the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office. When we think we have a handle on that story, we'll bring it to you. At the very least, Scott's office thinks it can get over on a lowly blogger, denying financial connections and hoping we won't check. It's enough to make you frustrated and cynical!

*at least for the primary; the general election summary for 2004 could not be found online