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There’s really no reason to skirt around the question of whether Cylvia Hayes’ relationship with Gov. John Kitzhaber has put money directly into her bank account.

With each new revelation about paid contracts and fellowships, it’s become clear the governor’s fiancee was reeling in cash from groups that have an intense interest in state policy. In our view, this blurring of the lines between public business and personal enrichment has pushed the Kitzhaber/Hayes saga beyond the bounds of an ethics investigation. It is time for Oregonians to receive more definitive answers — potentially in court — about whether Hayes or Kitzhaber violated any laws.

The need for deeper investigation became more urgent last week with our Capital Bureau’s report that Hayes received $118,000 in 2011 and 2012 from a nonprofit clean-energy consulting organization. Reporter Hillary Borrud, who works in the bureau jointly staffed by Pamplin Media and EO Media groups, asked Hayes what she did to earn $118,000 in compensation for this fellowship. Hayes stated in an email that her “primary work was to implement communications strategies promoting clean economy development.”

Representatives of the nonprofit organization are equally vague about Hayes’ actual work product. It also appears, based on follow-up accounts in Willamette Week and The Oregonian, that Hayes neglected to claim the $118,000 in income on her tax returns for those years.

Murky answers to real questions

The payments from the clean-energy nonprofit are the latest examples of money flowing to Hayes or her consulting firm from groups that have a stake in Oregon’s public policy decisions. We don’t doubt that Hayes and Kitzhaber support clean-energy policies, with or without the incentive of outside income. But let’s be frank: Without her connection to the governor’s office — and her role as unpaid adviser to Kitzhaber on energy policy — Hayes would be just another green consultant trying to scrape together a living.

It is precisely because of her relationship with the governor that Hayes and her firm were able to command such attention. Kitzhaber has bristled at that suggestion, saying Hayes is a strong, independent woman with her own career. Maybe so, but she and the governor failed to provide adequate delineation between her business and the state’s business — despite Kitzhaber’s assurances to the contrary.

The murkiness of the situation was apparent on Friday when Kitzhaber took questions from the media about Borrud’s latest revelations. The governor did say — finally — that Hayes would have no policy role in his administration moving forward. However, he declined to speak for Hayes on many questions, trotting out the same line about her being an independent woman who doesn’t work for the state of Oregon.

Hayes is traveling in Europe right now, which gives her a convenient excuse not to respond to the media. But the governor is here — and he still works for the state of Oregon. He was either unwilling or incapable of giving full answers to questions that even he admits are legitimate.

Deeper investigation required

On Friday, Kitzhaber called the ongoing controversy “a distraction.” It is much more than that. It is scandalous that the governor was inattentive to — or even supportive of — his fiancee monetizing their relationship.

Now, the damage is spreading into the policy arena and affecting issues before the 2015 Legislature. It has become impossible to separate Kitzhaber’s push for reduced-carbon standards from Hayes’ paid work on behalf of advocates of those standards.

Legislators now have cause to view many of Kitzhaber’s initiatives with suspicion. The governor has lost moral standing, which means he’ll have less ability to rally lawmakers around his agenda. These problems underscore the fact that a fourth term was at least one too many for any governor — and Kitzhaber still has three years and 11 long months to go.

The governor says he has no intention of resigning. But if that’s the case, Oregon residents need better answers than Kitzhaber or Hayes have provided.

The Oregon Ethics Commission, which is doing a preliminary investigation to determine whether to probe more deeply, doesn’t move swiftly enough to give the public the assurance it needs.

Instead, the matter needs to go before a grand jury. A possible avenue suggested by the Eugene Register-Guard would be to appoint a retired judge to present the evidence to a grand jury. Another path would be to have the Marion County district attorney, whose jurisdiction includes Salem, initiate an investigation.

Without an authoritative conclusion to this case, the dribble of new revelations will impede progress in the governor’s office and Legislature — and Oregonians will be left to speculate about Kitzhaber’s integrity.

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