Dark money raises questions about decisions on SLO marijuana shops

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.

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.

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.

Heidi Harmon, Carlyn Christianson and Erica Stewart

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.

Mayor 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 Woods, a relative of Susan Woods, 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 Woods’ 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, is 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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3 Comments about “Dark money raises questions about decisions on SLO marijuana shops”

  1. Louie337 says:

    IT IS all about them that run the city. Getting really tiresome when they “need” candidate donations so greatly that they will do about anything for the money! Shame on them for taking donations, and voting for the project (as in all the housing being built) and naming the folks who “win” the right to open a cannabis business in the city. I do not know why the city council should be involved with deciding WHO will win the opportunity! Why don’t we just have an independent commission to decide among the groups applying? Why don’t we have a couple of business starting and then after a certain time, allow others to open up. The sale should NOT be sold to the highest bidder in campaign cash. That is not business. Research should be done on each applicant’s statement given to support their possible longevity in the business. Critical information to prove possible viability.

    Council members PLEASE quit selling our city to the highest bidder, whether it is all the new housing which will stop us who already live here from ever driving off our street due to the steady stream of traffic backing up at most hours of the day. Wow, so noble to allow oneself to be bought off.

    SHAME!!!!!

  2. honestjohn says:

    Yes, this is the “new normal” in SLO City/County. Let’s all embrace corruption and self-serving as this is the culture the Progressives are successfully growing and we can’t stop it with apathetic ignorant voters. Greater good? GONE! It’s all about ME, ME, and ME.
    Pour yourself a glass of wine or smoke a joint and enjoy the ride because the destination will be disaster.

  3. seeker says:

    Thank you, Karen, for delving into the issue of dark money. Mayor Jeff Lee and council members Mariam Shah and Barbara Nicolls also received large donations at the event as well as other donations from cannabis business affiliates with permit applications with the city of Grover Beach. Shah claims she didn’t fundraise. However, she still needed to disclose the donation in kind of hospitality at the event, and none did.

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