Oregon Government Ethics Commission Rejects Settlement With Kitzhaber

Ethics panel votes down proposed $1,000 penalty by 7 to 1 margin, saying it is too light.

John Kitzhaber (Leah Nash)

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission today took the unusual step of rejecting a proposed settlement with former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Today, in a surprise move, the ethics commission voted 7 to 1 against accepting a proposed settlement.

The commission's vote was first reported by the Portland Tribune.

Earlier this week, the commission staff announced a proposed settlement with Kitzhaber in which Kitzhaber would acknowledge failing to disclose and dispose of conflicts of interest related to the private consulting business of former First Lady Cylvia Hayes in which Kitzhaber would pay a $1,000 fine.

Kitzhaber issued a statement after that announcement.

"I apologize to Oregonians for failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest, although the ethical violations at issue were wholly unintentional," he said. "In the case reviewed by the Ethics Commission, I did not perceive a conflict of interest because I understood the work that Ms. Hayes was doing for various non-profit organizations was not directed at trying to shape or influence state policy but, rather, to educate people regarding the issues to which she had committed her professional career."

What Kitzhaber did not say in his statement was that Hayes was paid at least $225,000 for her consulting work on issues that overlapped with her portfolio as an official adviser to Kitzhaber on energy and sustainable development.

The Bend Bulletin called the proposed settlement with the ethics commission a "whitewash."

"As has been the case from the start, [Kitzahaber]'s unwillingness to acknowledge the potential conflict that his relationship with Hayes and 3E Strategies created makes him look more like a gobsmacked teenager than the highly intelligent, mature physician and political leader he is reputed to be," the Bulletin wrote.

"Nor should the ethics commission or ordinary Oregonians be particularly happy with the outcome. Kitzhaber still seeks to blame ethics difficulties created by his relationship with Hayes on others. In that respect, at least, the settlement fails the smell test."

The Tribune quoted former state Sen. Charles Starr (R-Hillsboro) as saying today that the proposed penalty was too light.

"I think a larger fine is necessary for our reputation as a commission … because anybody serving at the highest level has a greater responsibility to the public," Starr said.

The commission has not yet resolved ethics complaints against Hayes but is scheduled to do so at its Jan. 5, 2018 meeting.

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