Working Off the Books

Contrary to state election laws, Gov. John Kitzhaber has failed to disclose the role of a key campaign consultant.

That's as it should be. State law requires that Kitzhaber and other candidates fully disclose how they spend campaign money, making their election efforts completely transparent to Oregonians. 

But Kitzhaber has not disclosed the experienced political consultant steering his campaign behind the scenes, Patricia McCaig.

McCaig, 60, rescued Kitzhaber's wobbly 2010 campaign against Republican Chris Dudley. She later ran Kitzhaber's efforts to win approval of the $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing. ("The Woman Behind the Bridge", February 27, 2013)

Recently, McCaig has been spending time advising Kitzhaber's campaign and managing fallout from what has become the governor's biggest political liability, the Cover Oregon debacle. 

“She is an unpaid adviser,” Kitzhaber spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said two weeks ago after WW asked why Kitzhaber had not disclosed McCaig’s campaign work. “She helps out here and there but has no formal role.” 

That changed after WW raised further questions.

"In August I was asked to take on specific, limited projects for the campaign and that in-kind contribution will be reported within the 30 days required," McCaig wrote WW in a Sept. 23 email. "I have just agreed to a paid role with the campaign thru November and will submit an invoice at the end of the month."

Yet much of McCaig's work took place more than 30 days ago and hasn't been disclosed by Kitzhaber's campaign. The law requires Kitzhaber to disclose McCaig's services, even if they are donated, because her work represents in-kind value to his campaign.

Tony Green, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kate Brown, says elections officials are examining the legal issues around McCaig's work and were unable to respond by press time.

Kitzhaber has reported McCaig's contributions in the past. During his 2010 campaign, for example, Kitzhaber disclosed that McCaig had donated political consulting she valued at $6,000 a month during August and September of that year. Then, between October and February, Kitzhaber's campaign paid McCaig $67,000.

Before joining Kitzhaber's campaign, McCaig worked to get the CRC built as a consultant to David Evans and Associates, a Portland engineering firm hired by the state.

After his election, Kitzhaber named McCaig his senior adviser on the CRC project, but it was Evans and Associates that continued to pay her—in the end, $553,000.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission launched an investigation of the potential conflict of interest for McCaig, and allegations that she had failed to register as a lobbyist for the project, as required by law. (WW reported that McCaig had billed David Evans for hundreds of hours working on legislative issues.)

The ethics commission dismissed the case after little independent investigation in the face of McCaig's denials of wrongdoing.

For Kitzhaber's re-election campaign, McCaig has done far more than a typical campaign volunteer. She has routinely taken a leading role in strategy sessions with paid campaign consultants, including Mark Wiener and Kevin Looper, both of whom worked on the 2010 campaign for Kitzhaber. (The governor has disclosed he is paying Wiener and Looper; both declined to discuss McCaig's role in the campaign.)

McCaig, for example, was directly involved in two months of wrangling over debate scheduling with Kitzhaber's Republican opponent, state Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point). Richardson spokeswoman Meredith Glacken tells WW the Republican's campaign was told during an Aug. 15 meeting with Kitzhaber's staff that no debate plan could be set until McCaig was consulted.

McCaig has also been working damage control for Kitzhaber on Cover Oregon, the state's health insurance exchange, which paid $250 million to Oracle Corp. for a website that never worked as intended.

On April 9, Cover Oregon's besieged board hired Clyde Hamstreet, a Portland businessman who specializes in turning around troubled companies.

Hamstreet says he has met with McCaig “a number of times” over the handling of fallout from Cover Oregon. 

"She was helpful in understanding context of the issue," Hamstreet says of McCaig.

But it's in a recent email exchange that McCaig revealed the depth of her involvement with the Kitzhaber campaign.

In August, cryptic billboards started appearing around Portland that took shots at Kitzhaber over Cover Oregon, the CRC and other issues.

On Sept. 7, Richardson, Kitzhaber's GOP opponent, disclosed that $200,000 worth of billboard advertising had been paid for by Seneca Sustainable Energy, owned by the Jones timber family of Eugene. 

WW had earlier asked Wojcicki, Kitzhaber's spokeswoman, about the billboards. On Sept. 9, Wojcicki sent an email about the Seneca contribution to WW as well as campaign insiders Wiener, Looper and former Oregonian reporter Christian Gaston, who handles policy for the campaign. Also copied on the email: Patricia McCaig. 

"Is that possible?" Wojcicki wrote. "Richardson reported the in-kind for 200k from Seneca for advertising."

"Yes," McCaig wrote back. "I understood that the Seneca girls were going to be in for about $300,000. It would not be hard with as many as they have and if they are up through the election to get to [$]200,000."

By "Seneca girls," McCaig meant Becky, Kathy and Jodie Jones, the daughters of Seneca founder Aaron Jones who now co-own the biomass energy company.

McCaig had hit “reply all,” inadvertently copying WW on her answer. 

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