One of Portland’s top political consultants is accused of two-timing a powerful business group after he conducted campaign work for it over the summer and then jumped ship to its rival, according to a legal notice sent by the group.
Lobbyist Dan Lavey ditched the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association, an off-and-on client for years, this month after receiving a financial offer that he “couldn’t refuse” from the Northwest Grocery Association, the beer and wine distributors allege.
In a statement, Lavey said the accusations were rife with “myths, mischaracterizations, assumptions and speculations” and that he and his firm would respond to them “through the appropriate legal channels.”
The two industry associations, among the most influential in Oregon, are frequent political opponents and are poised to square-off again over a possible grocer-backed ballot initiative next year that would privatize state liquor sales.
Danelle Romain, the beer and wine distributors’ executive director, said Thursday she remains floored by Lavey’s apparent about-face.
“What happened to us is unheard of in Oregon, as far as I know,” said Romain, who has worked as an attorney and lobbyist in the state for nearly 20 years. “I’m shocked.”
Other political operatives are also taken aback.
“Reputation and relationships are all we have in this work,” said Amy Ruiz, a senior vice president with the lobbying and political consulting firm Strategies 360. “Flagrantly flipping sides is not something we usually see in Oregon politics.”
Lavey, however, said he had not signed a contract to work for the beer and wine association this election cycle.
“The truth is our firm has no existing contract with the beer and wine distributors and have never even been asked or been offered a proposal or contract to provide them campaign services for the 2022 elections,” he said.
He and a partner at another firm did, however, accept a five-figure sum from them this summer for polling and consulting on a potential 2022 liquor sales campaign and also quoted the group a price for subsequent work for them this fall or winter, according to emails between Lavey and Romain provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The grocers’ two previous attempts to ask Oregon voters to allow the purchase of spirits at grocery stores and other retailers, which is permitted in neighboring Washington and California, failed to make the ballot recent years.
Lavey, the president of Gallatin Public Affairs, was hired by the beer and wine distributors to wage campaigns against both initiatives in 2014 and 2015.
A sought-after strategist, Lavey is also one of two consultants and spokesmen for the newly launched group People for Portland, an anonymously funded effort pushing local elected leaders for action on police reform, homelessness and other issues.
As the leader of the beer and wine distributors, Romain retained Lavey in late June to perform about $43,000 worth of polling and consulting work aimed at defeating a potential ballot measure pushed by the state’s grocery industry, according to a cease-and-desist letter sent to Lavey on Wednesday.
Romain and Lavey and their teams had several meetings over the next month to discuss polling results and to strategize over how to best oppose the effort to privatize liquor sales in Oregon, wrote Steven Berman, a lawyer representing the beer and wine distributors.
Emails shared with The Oregonian/OregonLive show Lavey had also agreed to perform additional polling and consulting work for the group once the potential ballot initiative’s title and language received approval from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. He also set the price he planned to charge the beer and wine distributors for that work.
That effort to move a potential ballot measure forward is currently on pause, however.
Meanwhile, Lavey’s “approach to working with the campaign changed,” the legal notice alleges.
In early September, he advised the beer and wine distributors against launching a website and media campaign against the proposed liquor initiative, “even though you had recommended and pursued a similar strategy in 2014 and 2015,” according to the letter.
Lavey also discouraged releasing polling data to the press that showed public opposition to the idea of allowing liquor sales at grocery stores, the beer and wine distributors allege.
Almost two weeks later, on Sept. 23, Romain said, Lavey told her in a telephone call that he was going to work for the grocery association with Kevin Looper, the prominent political consultant who co-launched the People for Portland campaign with Lavey.
“Looper and I [received] a financial offer we couldn’t refuse,” Lavey told Romain in the call, according to the legal notice.
On Sept. 27, sponsors of two proposed ballot measures that would have allowed liquor sales in grocery stores withdrew their initiative petitions, presumably to tweak and resubmit them.
Berman, the lawyer for the beer and wine group, suggested in his letter that Lavey advised them to do so and might have used information he gained from beer and wine-funded polling to help the grocers improve their messaging.
The Northwest Grocery Association did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment Thursday.
“Your actions are disreputable and inexcusable,” wrote Berman, the beer and wine group’s lawyer, in the letter to Lavey. “Even within the realm of political campaigns and campaign consulting, what you have done goes well beyond the bounds of acceptable professional behavior.”
The group’s letter outlined multiple legal claims against Lavey and Gallatin, including breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and misappropriation of the trade secrets.
The beer and wine distributors are also demanding Lavey not share any of the group’s information with his new client.
— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632
Email at [email protected]
Follow on Twitter @shanedkavanaugh
Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories.