Dark money raises questions about SLO’s marijuana shop point system

February 19, 2019

Correction: SLO Councilwoman Erika Stewart was not sworn in until the day after the vote and did not participate in setting the criteria for marijuana shop applications. And a representative of Helios Dayspring said that donors affiliated with other cannabis shop applications did not attend Dayspring’s fundraiser.  

Editor’s Note: This is second in a series about allegations of backroom deals in the battle to control the local marijuana market and San Luis Obispo officials’ attempts to withhold public information.

By KAREN VELIE

As San Luis Obispo’s City Council created the selection criteria to determine the winners of three lucrative cannabis retail permits, marijuana business owners flooded candidates with campaign donations, many of which were not properly reported. [Cal Coast Times]

A review of financial disclosure forms, property records and marijuana retail permit applications by Cal Coast Times reporters revealed a web of dark money around the process. Several weeks after the election, SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon and SLO Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson voted for a resolution establishing criteria to rank marijuana shop applicants. It created a point system that appears to favor applicants who donated money.

On Oct. 28, marijuana mogul Helios Dayspring and his marijuana brand Natural Healing Center hosted a fundraiser for eight politicians including Harmon, Christianson and Stewart. Thousands of dollars were donated at the event.

While Harmon, Christianson and Stewart accepted multiple donations from people affiliated with the marijuana industry, those donors were generally listed as retired or under a non-marijuana related occupation. In several instances, descriptions of the donors occupation varied from public official to public official.

Heidi Harmon, Carlyn Christianson and Erica Stewart

For example, two candidates listed donations from Bill Szymczak, a cultivation partner of Dayspring. Harmon listed Szymczak as retired while Christianson reported he was self employed.

California passed the Political Reform Act in 1974 to try to curb corruption by eliminating secret or anonymous contributions. Proponents of the act reasoned that if the public knew who donors were affiliated with they would be more informed voters.

Candidates are required to disclose campaign receipts and expenditures on Form 460. Candidates need to disclose the date a donation was received, the donors’ identities, their occupations and their addresses. Form 460 also is used to amend prior reports.

On her financial disclosure forms, Harmon reported three donations from affiliates of Dayspring’s Natural Healing Center, eight from affiliates of permit applicant Megan’s Organics Market and four linked to permit applicant SLO Cal Roots, according to her 460 forms.

Four affiliates of Natural Healing Center donated to Stewart, three from Megan’s Organics Market and two from SLO Cal Roots. Christianson accepted donations from three affiliates from both the Natural Healing Center and Megan’s Organics Market.

However, none of the candidates’ financial disclosure forms noted the donors affiliations with the current applicants for retail marijuana permits and none of the applicants reported the fundraiser event itself as a non-monetary donation.

In response to questions about Harmon’s donations related to the Oct. 28 fundraiser, Harmon amended her 460 financial disclosure removing multiple donations, all dates of donations, and five expenses. Candidates sign their campaign disclosure and amendment forms under the penalty of perjury.

Heidi Harmon and Helios Dayspring

On Jan. 31, Harmon reported donations on the date of the fundraiser from both Bonnie and Jamie Saucedo with an address at 473 Bernardo in Morro Bay. The Saucedo’s daughter, Marissa Saucedo, is an owner of SLO Cal Roots, one of nine applicants for the three retail marijuana permits.

On her original Form 460, Harmon also noted an Oct. 28 donation from Yvonee Helms and a donation from Mary Wood, a relative of Susan Wood, one of Dayspring partners in several of his marijuana businesses.

On Feb. 8, Harmon filed an amended 460 report that no longer included the Bonnie Saucedo, the Jamie Saucedo, the Yvonee Helms, or the Mary Wood’s donations.

Many of Harmon’s disclosures include errors with names or occupations such as Sunni Mullinax, a winner in the application for a Grover Beach pot shop permit, listed as Sunni Vogel. San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill is listed as a collection officer for SLO County.

In addition, Harmon removed all dates of donations and combined multiple contributions made on different dates from the same contributor to one donation.

For example, on the original Jan. 31, 460 filing, Harmon listed donations of $40 on Oct. 22, $80 on Oct. 28, and $80 on Oct. 29 from Chrisopher Wright. On the form, Harmon lists Wright as an employee of Grow & Grow Rich who lives at 473 Bernardo Avenue in Morro Bay. On her amended form, Harmon lists one donation of $200 from Wright without including the required date.

Wright is a consultant for Grow and Grow Rich out of Orange County, a business that promises to give training and provide contacts to assist people entering the marijuana industry. However, because of multiple fraud allegations, prosecutors are looking into the company.

Harmon, Stewart and Christianson did not respond to questions about not disclosing the non-monetary cost of the fundraiser and ties to marijuana applicants. Harmon’s treasurer Gretchen Prince said she was not aware of why they removed multiple donors on Harmon’s recently amended Form 460. Prince said she had little experience with the Form 460 and that she had only served as Harmon’s treasurer because they are sisters.

 

Portions of Mayor Heidi Harmon’s financial disclosure filings:

The amount of monetary donations listed on page five of Mayor Heidi Harmon’s  amended 460 for Oct. 21 through Jan. 31 does not match the amended 460 summary page.

Harmon’s original 460 10-21-… by on Scribd


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Harmon’s amended 460 10-21-2… by on Scribd


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Nancy

Heidi Harmon does not have a job, she lives off her mayor stipend. She rents a room in a trailer, but still how can she pay her bills and travel to Vermont for a week – flight, hotel, cost of attendance at an event – on her $1,500 a month stipend. Before becoming mayor, she was a part time maid and a part time daycare assistant. Now she is mayor and spending way more money than she makes. But who cares, as long as she attacks anyone who questions her decisions calling them sexist. It is time for the public to take action and demand accountability.


aye-caramba

She likely uses her “political fund”, with monies donated by patrons. The fat cat consultants who control her know how to game the system and “donors” can pay into the campaign fund which she can use for “campaign” reasons. That’s how most of these folks climb up economically. The corruption follows the dependence upon and growth of these funds. The “cash in the bank” phenomena often reflects political viability. Yep, she likely skims it…trip to Vermont was”political” paid by guys like the Pot Kingpins.


DocT

There are hundreds of cannabis growers in SLO county who were fully legal Dec. 31, 2017….who then became criminals on Jan 1, 2018 due to “legalization.”


This all by legislative fiat! This is the corruption….not the nature of those who grow or consume cannabis.


When a small group of people have complete power over who gets a license THIS is corruption. It has nothing to do with the crop or the character of those who grow the crop or consume the crop. Putting the power to pick winners and losers into the hands of a small, unaccountable, easily bribed group is a recipe for corruption of all sorts.


No amount of campaign finance reform, rules or ideas of “fairness” can do anything to mitigate this type of corruption, because at all times the very few licenses allowed will be given to those who have been most effective at “persuading” the decision makers.


What’s the solution? Easy.


Allow freedom. Allow the license to be available to ANYONE, and keep it cheap and reasonable.


The only downside to freedom is for those who sit on the council…..who only make 90k per year and have to live on the Central Coast. They require bribes and favors. Freedom interferes with this corruption.


Don’t blame the pot-heads or the growers! This is a government problem, like most others.


Nancy

There are good growers and there are bad growers. Anyone who is paying for a vote for a permit to sell is corrupt. It is no different then wine, if you bribe public officials to get special treatment you are a criminal.


DocT

Because the system is set up with built-in corruption, meaning among other things Marijuana is treated much differently than wine…not at all the same, there is no possible way anyone gets permission to do anything without a “bribe.”


Please understand that there are probably legal loopholes and corrupt DA’s that insure that bribes are not bribery in the legal sense, but “campaign contributions,” which may or may not be fully legal.


Usually, the only difference between a legal and illegal campaign ‘contribution’ is improperly filed paperwork.


It’s to the point where if a person doesn’t bribe public officials they aren’t allowed to do business. This is not the fault of the businessman! Let’s not label people who will do what it takes to go into business—-namely the gaming of the “points system” in this case—as criminals. In the legal sense of the word they may in fact not be criminals.


However, the very nature of the system, where a small group of people decide who wins and who loses, is guaranteed to be massively corrupt. That’s where the blame should lie, not with eager businessmen who understand they must Pay to Play.


Ricky2

In part, we have Jan Marx and Carlyn Christianson to thank for this mess. They weakened SLO’s once powerful campaign finance law, completely eliminated city filings that were stricter than the state’s, and the weak law that was left was no longer ENFORCED. Our current city attorney doesn’t bother with enforcing any law — unless it helps developers and hurts residents, then she’s right on top of the most beneficial interpretation for them and the worst for us. Corruption at city hall has been carefully planned.


aye-caramba

IS THIS ANY SURPRISE, really? These marijuana growers don’t come from a traditional agriculture ethic, they are not hard working farmers growing carrots or strawberries. These are the old shady pot dealers, the old druggies who’ve spent most of their adult lives involved in illegal sketchy activities. Of course they will try to buy these loser politicians. And it will continue. Good job CCN, shine the light on these weasels.


JordanJ

While the SLO County Progressives appear to support campaign finance reform, their leaders are ignoring the rules. They appear to be attempting to divert the public with claims they are victims of sexism or homophobia.


Every town has a few crazies who go off on public officials. The difference here is the ladies of the SLO Progressives make it all about them, everyone else is a sexist homophobic who needs to investigated by the DA. No consideration for the mentally ill if they irritate a SLO Progressive.


At the same time, their group includes Aaron Ochs and Adam Hill, two men involved in an abusive website that listed women as whores.


Sad thing is, our local chief of police is so wrapped up in happy town and the raises marijuana money will bring, she will never fight for justice.


RalphKane

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS — Orwell


Therealtruth

What happens in the dark shall shall come to light! The local cannabis community needs to speak up! They’re are many of us that know the truth. Almost every delivery service was contacted by Helios people or 805 beach breaks to be used in the application process. As you can see now who the ones were that sold out. The ones of us that didn’t

It’s because we have integrity. Helios main concern was big bussiness coming in and getting the 3 storefronts ( Med Men, Harborside, ect…). This is why it was so important to have a point system with the majority of points going to “local bussiness”. You can clearly see who applied. I just can’t understand why any City would want to be affiliated with someone who is known to be a shady, corrupt individual. But I guess like they say, birds of a feather flock together, right?


Karen-Velie

therealtruth – Please call me at 805-234-1703. I will keep your name anonymous.


rukidding

Hmmmmm! Everyone should be able to figure this one out, even the DA, maybe? Very good example explaining the term “follow the money.” This should almost be a give me for everyone to receive and A and these corrupt politicians an F, which should stand for Felony.


the situation

If it smells of corruption, look no further than our Mayor. She is by far one of the most corrupt people in this town. Harmon, Hill, and Tenborg. Time to clean house and throw these corrupt scumbags in jail where they belong