As Oregon lawmakers prepare for the short session of the Legislature that begins Feb. 3, two of them—one in each chamber—have secured new gigs to supplement their legislative pay.
Both of those jobs raise ethical questions. One lawmaker is taking an assignment from an employer with lots of legislative business. The other is going into business with a lobbying firm.
Former state Rep. Vicki Berger (R-Salem) says she's disappointed in both men.
"Whether this passes the ethics commission smell test or not, it makes Oregonians very unhappy when their policymakers have any kind of a financial stake in the policies we sent them to Salem to enact," Berger says. "It's a coziness that does the Oregon political process no good."
Here are the two lawmakers, and how they're juggling their two jobs.
Sen. Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego)
The job: Wagner, a rising star in his caucus and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, reported to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission in December that he'd been offered a new consulting assignment: He'd get $5,500 a month and an office from Portland State University to advise on student transfers, emergency aid and PSU's 75th birthday celebration.
The possible conflict: Wagner worked at Portland Community College prior to his appointment to the Senate in January 2018. In November of that year, he formed a consulting firm to advise nonprofits and school districts. Now he'll be drawing a check from a university that frequently has business in front of policy and budget committees on which he serves. (Wagner is also a member of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee.)
On Dec. 17, Wagner sought advice from the ethics commission on the PSU job. Director Ron Bersin told him in a Dec. 20 letter that "nothing appears to indicate Pomme Partners is being offered this contract as a member of the Oregon Legislative Assembly," and OK'd the job.
He says: Wagner insists he's been careful to observe ethics laws. "The work as presented doesn't venture into lobbying or advocacy on issues before the Legislature," he says. "I will never leverage my position in the Legislature for any individual or private gain."
Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner)
The job: Potential conflicts are not new to Smith, the House's senior Republican member who enjoys several plum committee posts. He has reported numerous private contracts he's obtained, often with local economic development agencies that have business before the Legislature ("Both Sides Now," WW, May 29, 2019). Last year, his economic development firm scored assignments on two large state-funded rail projects, one in Malheur County and one in Linn County, where he represented the Linn Economic Development Group.
In November, Pac/West Communications, one of Salem's largest lobbying firms, sought to represent Millersburg, the Linn County town where one of Smith's projects is located.
The pitch to Millersburg included the services of Smith. "Greg Smith is a valuable member of Pac/West's team," the presentation said. "He is one of Oregon's premier economic and business development specialists."
The possible conflict: Among the tasks Pac/West pledged to do: lobby state agencies and "assist in securing budgetary resources available through the state and federal government." (Like Wagner, Smith sits on the Joint Ways and Means Committee.)
The city of Millersburg hired Pac/West, which means Smith is now a business partner of a firm that will lobby him.
Although Smith has asked the ethics commission for advice on past conflicts, he did not do so this time.
He says: Smith believes he's done nothing wrong and will restrict his activities to advising private companies in Millersburg. Smith denies he will do any lobbying and says any assertion to the contrary would be "very inaccurate."