July 12th, 2013 3:40 pm | by ANDREA DAMEWOOD News | Posted In: Transportation, Activism, Politics, PDX News, Environment

Kitzhaber's Top Columbia River Crossing Adviser, Patricia McCaig, Under Ethics Investigation

murmurs_mccaig_3926Patricia McCaig - IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission today voted to formally investigate potential ethics law violations by Gov. John Kitzhaber's top adviser on the Columbia River Crossing.

Patricia McCaig, who orchestrated Kitzhaber's successful push to get the now-defunct $3.5 billion project through the Oregon Legislature, is being investigated for the possible violation of eight ethics laws, a preliminary review obtained by WW says.

The report says McCaig may have violated laws against conflicts of interest and failing to register as a lobbyist.

"There appears to be a substantial objective basis to believe that violations of the Oregon Government Ethics law and Oregon Lobbying Regulation law may have occurred," says the report, made public after a Friday morning executive session, during which the commission voted unanimously to pursue the allegations against McCaig. McCaig was present when the commission voted.

McCaig, 58, was the focus of a Feb. 27 WW cover story. WW reported that, while McCaig holds the title of Kitzhaber's top adviser, her paychecks are signed by the CRC’s biggest contractor, David Evans and Associates, which would have profited by the project going forward. McCaig has been paid more than $417,000 at a billing rate of $90 an hour.

McCaig also billed for hundreds of hours of work she did to convince lawmakers to approve the CRC, but never registered as a lobbyist, as the law requires.

Despite McCaig's success in Oregon, Washington senators rejected a transportation bill that included funding for the CRC on June 28. That same day, Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued statements saying the project will be stopped.

However, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigation will continue.

Two people filed complaints about McCaig with the ethics commission in March, following WW's story. The commission's preliminary review finds that McCaig may have created a conflict of interest by working for both the governor and the David Evans and Associates.

"Ms. McCaig may have participated in official actions, decisions or recommendations that could have resulted in financial benefits or avoidance of financial detriments to her or a business with which she is associated," the report says.

The report also finds that McCaig may have needed to register as a lobbyist, and may also have broken the law by not filing an Annual Verified Statement of Economic Interest with the ethics commission in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

"It appears Ms. McCaig may have been a lobbyist," the report says.

According to the report, McCaig refuted the allegations. She said she never talked to or wrote legislative or executive officials "to influence or attempt to influence legislative action." McCaig instead writes that she only worked on a legislative strategy and provided factual information to lawmakers.

However, the review notes that McCaig's own contract with David Evans and Associates indicates that the CRC, the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation and DEA "were apparently to receive assistance in gaining a legislative result."

Oregon Government Ethics Commission Executive Director Ron Bersin says investigators will finish their work within 180 days.

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