There's a new twist in the story of Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, the Oregon bakery that possibly faces a massive fine for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple: questions about whether a gay rights group has been closely communicating with the state agency tasked with handling discrimination complaints.
Image via Sweet Cakes by Melissa/Facebook
Questions of bias are emerging over communications between the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and Basic Rights Oregon, a gay rights group, according to the Daily Signal, a conservative news site run by the Heritage Foundation, which reports that the two appeared to be "working closely."
Records indicate the officials with the government body were "participating in phone calls, texting, and attending meetings with Basic Rights Oregon," including claims that commissioner Brad Avakian met multiple times with the group — developments that Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky called a blatant conflict of interest.
Emails published by the Daily Signal show communications between the state agency and Basic Right Oregon, with the outlet reporting that Avakian took a call from a co-director of the gay rights group in October 2014, and that an organization employee wrote an email to the commissioner in December 2014 calling him a "coalition partner."
Avakian is also reported to have purchased tickets to attend galas and events hosted by Basic Rights Oregon.
Critics and the Kleins themselves see the relationship as problematic — and here's why: When perceived acts of discrimination happen in the state, residents of Oregon can turn to the Bureau of Labor and Industries to file a complaint, which is exactly what happened after the bakers turned away Rachel Cryer-Bowman and her then-fiancee Laurel Bowman-Cryer back in 2013.
Avakian will ultimately make the final decision when it comes to the amount of the fine that the Kleins will face; an official recommended in April that the cost of rejecting the cake be $135,000 back, though Avakian could decrease that amount, as TheBlaze previously reported.
But the Daily Signal's report about the communications between the government agency and the gay rights group have led attorneys for the Klein family to request that the case against the bakers be reopened for further investigation.
Listen to the Keins share their story below:
The Kleins reacted to the alleged relationship between the state agency and the gay rights group, saying they don't want their case handled by the administrative court system.
"I think the case should be pulled out of [the Bureau of Labor and Industries] court and put into a civil court because I cannot get due process here," Aaron Klein told the Daily Signal. "We were shut down at every turn, so to say that Basic Rights Oregon should have access to [Avakian], that is absolutely ludicrous."
(H/T: Daily Signal)