Prosecutors watch suit that may lead to more charges Former employee targets more than Oregon Taxpayers United
Not long ago, Becky Miller was the top officer in Bill Sizemore's political legion.
She helped plan ballot measures, plot strategy and carry out the agenda of Oregon Taxpayers United and its spinoffs. She was a true believer in the mission of lower taxes and less government.
But Miller, protected by state and federal immunity, now has delivered a series of body blows to Sizemore and his political operations by taking the stand in a civil lawsuit being heard in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Distraught, saddened and struggling against tears, Miller provided a detailed insider's look at the operations of Oregon Taxpayers United during 1 1/2 days of testimony last week. She said under oath that:
• Sizemore disguised the source of contributions by soliciting donations for Americans for Tax Reform, which in turn sent money back to Oregon Taxpayers United. The scheme, she said, was intended to hide the identity of his local donors.
• Sizemore approved her omission of political discussions from the minutes of a meeting by the board of the Oregon Taxpayers United Educational Foundation. The group is a nonprofit, which means it's restricted in its political activity. The minutes were included in documents given to the Internal Revenue Service as part of an audit of its tax-exempt standing.
• She signed Sizemore's name to checks, often with his permission.
• Sizemore lived what she called a 'luxurious lifestyle,' with travel and purchases for his home financed with money that she said should have gone to his perpetually cash-strapped operations.
Last year, Miller quit the organization in disillusionment Ñ not with its politics but with its methods.
Sizemore said he never broke the law.
'She went beyond spilling her guts and misrepresented me,' he said outside the courtroom. 'There was nothing illegal or even close to illegal.' He testified last week and is likely to take the stand again. The trial is expected to end sometime next week.
No criminal investigations are under way against Sizemore or Oregon Taxpayers United. But federal and state prosecutors are carefully watching the trial.
'We are monitoring the progress of this case,' said Kevin Neely, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice. 'At some point we'll make a determination whether there's any action merited by the department.'
Judge Jerome LaBarre issued a gag order Monday, prohibiting all participants from talking with the media outside the courtroom.
Unions want money back
Miller was the star witness in the first week of the civil suit filed by the Oregon Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The groups claim that Oregon Taxpayers United used forgery and fraud in placing measures 92 and 98 on the November 2000 ballot and seek nearly $1 million to recover the cost of defeating them.
Miller's immunity deal with the Oregon Department of Justice protects her from criminal and civil charges for violations of state elections laws, Neely said. Such agreements aren't unusual and serve as a tool for prosecutors. They're often spelled out in writing and sometimes come with conditions, such as giving testimony in future investigations.
Miller struggled through her hours on the stand. She seemed agitated and grim, blinking often and casting rare, brief, furtive glances at her former boss, who sat about 10 feet away. She came to court alone and occasionally spent recesses by herself on a remote bench holding her head in her hands.
'This is really hard,' she said outside the courtroom. 'If I started talking, it would all just pour out.' She would not say anything about how she reached her decision to testify.
At times on the witness stand, she apologized for her actions, such as signing Sizemore's name on checks.
But her voice was steady and confident, and she wasn't afraid to bite back at Gregory Byrne, Sizemore's attorney. At one point, Byrne questioned her testimony about a $25,000 check written in 2000 from the Educational Foundation. Supposedly, the money was earmarked for a public opinion survey, which apparently never took place. Miller said the money was used to buy signatures for ballot measures, an inappropriate political role for a nonprofit.
Was that really the purpose of the check? Byrne asked sharply.
'Mr. Sizemore told me it was to pay for signatures,' she shot back. 'The money was needed immediately.'
Miller worked for Sizemore from 1997 to 2001 when she quit, 'disgusted with the whole process of doing things that way.'
A longtime activist
Miller's job with Oregon Taxpayers United came after a decade of civic activism that began after she and her family moved in the 1980s to Southwest Idaho Drive, near Gabriel Park, in Portland. She became chairwoman of the Hayhurst Neighborhood Association and helped lead a drive to have a billboard removed from Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, recalled Kay Durtschi, then head of the Southwest Neighborhood Coalition.
Later, Miller became an opponent of two major neighborhood initiatives: the community center at Gabriel Park and the Southwest Community Plan, both spearheaded by then city Commissioner Charlie Hales.
'In appearance and demeanor, she seemed like a 'Birkenstock,' a do-gooder, although her politics were the politics of opposition to government action,' Hales recalled. 'She's an intelligent, well-meaning and earnest person who considered me bad news.'
She testified so many times before the Portland City Council that commissioners got to know her and watched her increasing anger with government.
'It was gradual,' said then city Commissioner Mike Lindberg. 'I talked with other council members about her because we were surprised. She became increasingly outspoken and vociferous.'
'She's an ideologue,' said Durtschi, who also worked on conservative causes. 'When she's committed to something, she's 1,000 percent behind it and is not easily swayed when she knows the right answer. She's not easy to build consensus with, let's put it that way.'
Miller and her family left Portland for Woodburn in 1997, the same year she went to work for Sizemore.