Oregon Government Ethics Commission Investigation Says Kitzhaber Used Public Office to Benefit Himself

New investigative report adds to previous findings of conflicts of interest, says former governor used his office for personal gain.

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes in 2014. (Adam Wickham)

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission today released new findings that former Gov. John Kitzhaber used his public office for private gain.

A 131-page staff investigation found "a preponderance of evidence" that Kitzhaber seven times violated state conflict-of-interest laws related to first lady Cylvia Hayes' consulting contracts. It found that he committed three violations of a state law prohibiting the use of public office for private gain. And it added he committed one violation of a state law limiting gifts to public officials to $50.

Should the commission uphold ethics investigator Marie Sheffers' recommendations at its Friday meeting, Kitzhaber could face fines of up to $55,000.

The investigative report released today includes new findings and an expansion of the violations laid out in an earlier proposed settlement in November 2017.

In the November settlement, the OGEC reached a preliminary agreement with Kitzhaber and proposed to fine him $1,000 for three violations of state conflict of interest laws and a single violation of law prohibiting gifts over $50.

Kitzhaber had agreed to that settlement but the appointed commissioners rejected it by a 7 to 1 vote, finding the proposed settlement to lenient.

Related: Oregon Government Ethics Commission Rejects Settlement With Kitzhaber

In January, the OGEC then took up the allegations against former first lady Cylvia Hayes. A staff investigator found Hayes responsible for 23 violations of ethics laws, most relating to private consulting contracts she obtained that overlapped with her role as an adviser to Kitzhaber. The commissioners voted to uphold 22 of those violations, which could result in a fine of up to up to $5,000 for each violation, or a total of $110,000.

Related: Ethics Commissioner on Oregon's Disgraced First Couple: "A Case Study in What You Are Not Supposed to Do in Public Office"

That recommendation raised the stakes for Kitzhaber.

In a letter to the commission, Kitzhaber's attorney, Janet Hoffman, acknowledged Kitzhaber failed to manage conflicts of interest properly but took issue with Sheffers' other findings.

"Former Gov. Kitzhaber regrets not seeking an opinion from the OGEC regarding Ms. Hayes work for non-profits, and he has already accepted responsibility for the potential conflicts of interest he faced arising from Ms. Hayes' professional activities," Hoffman wrote. "Furthermore, he regrets that he did not personally remain informed about Ms. Hayes' professional activities and the claims she was making to her non-profit employers and funders, and that he did not prioritize these issues which were ultimately his responsibility."

"But he unequivocally rejected the suggestion that he used his office for the purpose of obtaining financial gain."

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