Oregon congressional candidate Mike Erickson sues opponent Andrea Salinas over negative ad

Republican congressional candidate Mike Erickson followed through on his threat to sue Democratic opponent Andrea Salinas over a negative campaign ad and is demanding $800,000 from her campaign. 

Erickson’s campaign committee filed a complaint Wednesday afternoon in Clackamas County Circuit Court against both Salinas’ campaign and Salinas as an individual over a 30-second  television ad that says he “was charged with felony drug possession of illegal oxycodone.”

The two are vying to represent Oregon’s new 6th District in Congress.

The commercial stems from Erickson’s 2016 arrest for driving under the influence in Hood River. While he was being booked at Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities, police found a 5-milligram oxycodone pill, which he said belonged to his wife, in his wallet.

Prosecutors opted not to charge Erickson with drug possession as a condition of his guilty plea for drunken driving. The Hood River District Attorney, Carrie Rasmussen, said felony charges were never considered, but a handwritten document from Erickson’s 2016 defense attorney incorrectly indicated they were being dismissed. 

According to the complaint, Erickson’s campaign has spent $800,000 on commercials refuting the Salinas ads and may spend more. He wants the Salinas campaign to stop running the ad, publicly apologize, reimburse him and air new correction ads, according to the suit.

“The ad, which is ironically titled ‘The Truth,’ falsely states that Mr. Erickson was ‘charged with felony drug possession’ and shows an image of four lines of cocaine,” Erickson attorney Jill Gibson said in a statement. “The statements by Andrea Salinas that Mr. Erickson was charged with illegal possession of drugs are completely false.”

Salinas and her campaign maintain that police charged Erickson. Prosecutors such as district attorneys, not law enforcement officers, are responsible for filing criminal charges. Salinas’ attorney argued in a letter to Erickson’s attorney that charging means accusing someone of an offense and that police can do so. 

“It is true that under the terms of the plea deal the DA did not file the charge of possession of oxycodone. But a charge is a charge, whether or not the DA files it,” Salinas attorney Harry Wilson wrote. 

Wilson also disputed that the white powder shown in the ad is cocaine, noting that oxycodone can be crushed and injected nasally. 

The state law Gibson cited in the complaint would allow a judge to remove the winner of an election if the judge determines that the winner told a lie that changed the course of the election. Her correspondence with Wilson included explicit threats to overturn election results should Salinas win.

The complaint doesn’t ask the court to consider overturning an election, though it does request an expedited time frame to ensure a final decision before the congressional term of office begins Jan. 3. 

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.