SALEM – Former Gov. John Kitzhaber violated state ethics laws in at least 11 instances, according to an investigation report released Wednesday by the Oregon Ethics Commission.
Kitzhaber violated law prohibiting use of his office for personal financial gain when he took actions that benefitted his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes' environmental consulting firm, 3E Strategies, investigators wrote in 135-page report. He also failed to publicly disclose his potential conflicts of interest and actual conflicts in several instances, as required by state law.
The former governor included Hayes's income from the firm in his household income in 2011-13 on statements of economic interest, investigators said.
"Former Governor Kitzhaber was personally responsible to ensure that he did not engage in any policy decisions, discussions, speeches, meetings, directives to staff or official actions that would further the financial interest of 3E Strategies," according to the report.
The commission is scheduled to consider whether to pursue the violations at a meeting Friday.
"Although former Governor Kitzhaber stipulated in a proposed settlement agreement that he unintentionally violated the potential conflict statute, he unequivocally rejects the suggestion that he used his public office to obtain a financial benefit for himself or Ms. Hayes," Janet Hoffman, Kitzhaber's attorney, wrote in a Feb. 6 letter to investigators.
Kitzhaber resigned Feb. 18, 2015, a little more than a month into his fourth term as governor, as federal and state investigations into his conduct began to crank up. Legislative leaders told Kitzhaber the bubbling scandals would distract from tough issues facing the session.
Penalty too lenient?
According to the report, Kitzhaber attended meetings for which Hayes was either being paid or was seeking contracts with environmental advocacy groups and promoted and advanced her business. For instance, he gave a speech in May 2013 at a planning retreat at the governor's residence, Mahonia Hall, to discuss transitioning Oregon to a different measurement formula that factors in environmental health. Hayes was being paid by public policy organization Demos for facilitating the meeting.
He asked that Hayes be included in correspondence, meetings and policymaking on matters for which she was seeking funding and being paid.
For example, he gave her access to the closed-door Pacific Coast Collaborative Leaders Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia, in March 2012, while she was being paid a $118,000 fellowship with the Clean Economy Development Center.
He and Hayes also used staff resources to book personal travel and to help Hayes with her business, according to the report. Finally, Kitzhaber violated a state prohibition on public officials accepting gifts worth $50 apiece when he accepted Premier Platinum status from United Airlines, which was valued at more than $4,000, the report showed.
In November, the commission denied the proposed agreement with Kitzhaber that would have required him to pay $1,000 to settle the case. At that time, Kitzhaber admitted he violated state ethics laws on four occasions and said he did so unintentionally. He said he did not disclose a conflict of interest related to Hayes' paid consulting contracts based on the advice of his attorney at the time.
News of the proposed settlement earlier that month spawned criticism that the penalty was too lenient on Kitzhaber's missteps during his role as the state's highest elected official.