Judy Hall has worked in the Oregon Senate Secretary's office for 28 years but she says until Jan. 30, she'd never seen a conflict-of-interest complaint filed against a senator.
"I like to think the Senate is a pretty civil place to work," says Hall, who became the Senate's secretary, or top administrator, in 1994. "This is the first complaint I remember seeing."
But last Friday, Bob Tiernan
, the newly elected Chairman of the Oregon Republican Party and a former lawmaker joined with Andrew Over, the Oregon GOP's executive director, to file a complaint
(PDF) against Senate President Peter Courtney
Tiernan was unhappy because Courtney failed to declare a potential conflict of interest before voting on a $175 million stimulus package bill that Courtney co-sponsored with Sen. Margaret Carter (D-Portland). The potential conflict arose because the stimulus package includes nearly $32 million in spending for Western Oregon University—where Courtney works when not in the Legislature.
"I see a stimulus package that's going to spend scarce dollars and is not going to stimulate much," says Tiernan. "When I also see a big chunk of money going to the senator who co-sponsored the bill's own employer, that makes me very suspicious."
Senate rules call for members to declare a potential conflict and disclose the nature of that conflict before voting on a bill that could benefit them or their families financially.
Robin Maxey, Courtney's spokesman, says the Senate President declared a potential conflict before an earlier subcommittee vote but unintentionally neglected to do so before a floor vote of all senators. Maxey says after Tiernan complained, Courtney quickly corrected what Maxey says was an "oversight."
"On Monday, Senator Courtney asked for and received the unanimous approval of his colleagues to enter a conflict," Maxey says.
On the larger question of why Polk County, where Western Oregon is located, is getting 18 percent of the stimulus money when it only has 1.8 percent of the state's population, Maxey says appearances notwithstanding, Courtney played no role in that decision.
Ken Rocco, the legislative fiscal officer and the person responsible for compiling a list of projects that could be ready to start by June 2009, backs up Maxey's claim.
Rocco says that for a variety of reasons, WOU had projects that were not included in the governor's capital projects list but that could commence on short notice. He says Courtney did not exert any influence on what projects got selected.
"The list was generated internally in this office and there was no pressure from Courtney," Rocco says.