Title Fight

New documents show why first lady Cylvia Hayes is subject to Oregon's ethics laws.

But right now there's one title Hayes, who declined to comment for this story, is trying to avoid—that of "public official" as defined by state law.

That might seem a trivial distinction. It's not.

The allegations of wrongdoing against Hayes—that she used her position in the governor's office to enrich herself by $85,000—could turn on whether she fits that legal definition. 

Following WW's initial stories about her actions ("First Lady Inc.," WW, Oct. 8, 2014), Hayes faces a possible investigation by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Only people defined as public officials are subject to state ethics laws. 

Hayes could get out from under that investigation in a hurry if she can convince the ethics commission she never qualified as a public official.

But records recently released to WW by the governor's office strengthen the case that Hayes was not only a public official, as defined by law, but someone who sought increasing clout and authority in Kitzhaber's administration.

Here's evidence from the newly released documents—as well as previously disclosed records—that the ethics commission is likely to weigh as it determines whether to investigate Hayes:

Hayes ran a state program. The title of first lady is not defined in state law, and Hayes was never paid for her work on behalf of the state.

That hardly matters. According to the ethics commission's 2010 guidebook, a public official includes anyone who is "an unpaid volunteer for a state, county or city agency or special district [or] anyone serving the State of Oregon or any of its political subdivisions."

Hayes has her own official page on the state's website, uses the Oregon state seal in her correspondence, and refers in that correspondence to the "office of the first lady."

She also runs a major Kitzhaber program, the Oregon Prosperity Initiative, dedicated to, according to a now-deleted Web page, "overcoming poverty and empowering citizens to maximize their potential.” 

As part of that initiative, Hayes worked closely with Kitzhaber's staff and convened meetings among leaders of nonprofit organizations and state officials. As the records released last week show, she frequently traveled the country representing Kitzhaber and the state of Oregon while giving speeches in California, Louisiana, Minnesota and New York. 

The state paid for Hayes to travel on official business. The records show the state routinely reimbursed Hayes for travel she characterized as official state trips for her, not just as Kitzhaber's companion.

The documents released last week show Hayes sought $8,334 in state reimbursement on 19 separate expense forms for official travel. Records show that in August, Hayes traveled to Seattle with a security officer from the Oregon State Police dignitary protection unit to meet with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife, Trudi. 

Other out-of-state travel paid for by taxpayers included a $2,413 trip in February 2012 to Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Governors Association. Hayes filled out the conference registration form to say she was “representing: state of Oregon.” 

Her taxpayer-paid travel also included a $1,475 trip to New Orleans in May for the Association for Enterprise Opportunity's national conference, where she represented the state on a panel that discussed the "power of microbusiness."

Hayes routinely directed state officials. Since Kitzhaber took office in January 2011, Hayes has joined in senior staff meetings, met regularly with top state officials and, in her own words, served as "a policy advisor to the Governor on the issues of clean energy and economic development.” 

On the website of her consulting firm, Bend-based 3E Strategies, Hayes says her duties as first lady included "leading a State of Oregon trade mission to Ghangzhou China.” 

The records show that on June 24, 2013, while visiting family in Oklahoma, Hayes sent Kitzhaber's official energy adviser, Margi Hoffmann, orders for a reception that night to mark the end of the legislative session. Hayes could not be there, but she told Hoffmann to speak for her. Her directions demonstrated that Hayes considered herself a key player in policy and legislative debates. 

"Margi, I would suggest you make a few comments in my stead (but obviously in your voice and perspective)," Hayes wrote. "Might be good for you to sum up all our successes this session and thank the advocates for all their help.” 

Kitzhaber's own lawyer considered Hayes a public official. Records show the governor's general counsel, Liani Reeves, repeatedly tried to get Hayes to follow ethics rules that govern public officials. 

But more recently, Kitzhaber has tried to cast doubt on the nature of Hayes' role. He directed Reeves to send a letter to the ethics commission Oct. 13 asking whether Hayes really fit the definition of public official.

In that same letter, however, Reeves acknowledged there had previously been no doubt about her role before questions surrounding Hayes' private dealings had been made public. 

"Over the past three-and-a-half years," Reeves wrote, "the Governor's office has treated Cylvia Hayes in her first lady role as a ‘public official.’”  

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