Another Kind Of Green

Emails show how former Gov. John Kitzhaber's environmental principles and his friendship with a campaign contributor collided.

Campbell has had grand plans for Silvies Valley Ranch. For more than a decade, he’s been building artificial beaver dams and other water diversions to restore natural habitat and boost hay production. He’s imported South African Boer goats, a hardy breed that mows down invasive plants and barbecues up nicely.

The high-desert ranch has a 6,000-foot runway, making it the best place in Grant County (pop. 7,283) to land a private plane. Campbell is building a resort—his plans call for 575 units—and developing a 36-hole, eco-friendly golf course.

But records show, in his desire to bring economic development to what he calls “Frontier Oregon,” Campbell has skirted state environmental regulations.

His water diversion projects blocked passage of endangered redband trout, and at least one building project’s septic systems fell afoul of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality rules.

Campbell’s aggressive approach to regulations proved no barrier to a warm friendship with then-Gov. John Kitzhaber, a politician whose environmental views were a pillar of his 35-year political career. That career ended with his Feb. 18 resignation amid growing allegations of influence peddling and conflicts of interest involving him and former first lady Cylvia Hayes.

Kitzhaber’s emails provide a glimpse of his friendship with Campbell, a big campaign contributor. The emails—from the accounts that Kitzhaber’s office sought to delete from state servers Feb. 5—show how the governor tried to balance running the state while also running for re-election. Kitzhaber did not respond to questions for this story.

Last year, Campbell proposed hosting a “Frontier Oregon Summit” at his ranch to promote economic development in Eastern Oregon. The event fell in the middle of Kitzhaber’s campaign for his fourth and final term. When Campbell emailed him about his idea, Kitzhaber responded with enthusiasm.

“Your invite list is excellent,” Kitzhaber wrote to Campbell on June 8, 2014. “If you want me to co-sign a letter to the list I would be glad to do so.”

Kitzhaber’s environmental staff was far less enthusiastic about the prospect of the governor headlining an event that would bring dozens of business and political leaders to Silvies Valley Ranch.

“Governor: I am going to be very direct,” Richard Whitman, Kitzhaber’s natural resources adviser, wrote June 20, 2014. “There are some serious problems with how Silvies Ranch has carried out its work.”

Last year, Kitzhaber, a Democrat, generated an unusual level of support from business and timber interests that historically support Republicans.

His appearance at Campbell’s Frontier Oregon Summit would highlight his commitment to one of his top priorities, creating jobs in rural Oregon.

With his ambitious plans for Silvies Valley Ranch, Campbell gave Kitzhaber the opportunity for a perfect campaign event.

Campbell had already established himself as one of Kitzhaber’s top individual contributors, giving him $20,000 for his 2010 campaign for governor. Campbell’s name wasn’t on the checks. Instead, he used two of his companies to direct the cash.

When the 2011 Oregon Legislature opened, Campbell sought a controversial bill that benefited just one party: his Silvies Valley Ranch.

In most cases, ranch land is zoned so it’s limited largely to agricultural use. But state Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) pushed House Bill 3465 to allow Campbell to develop his massive resort despite land-use rules that would have stopped him.

Opponents saw the bill as an end-run around Oregon’s land-use laws. “This was a one-off deal that benefits one party,” says Stephen Kafoury, a lobbyist for the American Planning Association.

Kitzhaber expressed concerns about measures that provide special deals—and then signed the bill into law anyway.

Campbell gave Kitzhaber another $21,000 in 2012, this time writing checks in his own name, and followed in May 2014 with $25,500 more. As he did in 2010, Campbell channeled the 2014 donations through his companies.

Campbell says he made no attempt to disguise his donations but simply wrote checks from company accounts rather than his personal checkbook. “Anyone can find out who owns any company in Oregon,” he says.

In June 2014, Campbell sent an email to Kitzhaber’s personal account about his plan for a Frontier Oregon Summit.

Campbell wanted the summit to advocate less government red tape, especially for rural businesses.

“State agencies must adopt a culture of helping to make things happen, instead of allowing things to happen only if they can’t be stopped by a regulation,” Campbell wrote in a June 8, 2014, memo to Kitzhaber under the heading “Expected Outcomes from the Summit.”

“Laws must be enacted to allow ecological enhancement to happen quickly and without costly, unnecessary permitting requirements.”

Emails show Kitzhaber asked Campbell to add a name to the list of speakers: first lady Cylvia Hayes. “Cylvia has been working on the poverty issue for the past three years and might have something valuable to contribute,” Kitzhaber wrote June 8, 2014.

Campbell revised his agenda but ignored Kitzhaber’s request. Hayes wasn’t happy. 

“I’d like to actually make some comments during our day one wrap up session rather than just being introduced,” she wrote to Kitzhaber on June 19, 2014. “I’d like to introduce the concept of economic reinvention and give a couple brief examples of rural communities that are doing it.”

SPECIAL TREATMENT: Campbell wouldn’t be able to operate his ranch as a resort if then-Gov. John Kitzhaber had not signed a 2011 bill intended solely to give Silvies Valley Ranch an exemption under land-use rules. Kitzhaber professed his dislike for such bills, and then signed it anyway to help Campbell, a campaign contributor.

Kitzhaber circulated Campbell’s agenda. Whitman, Kitzhaber’s natural resources adviser, voiced objections. Whitman had been in close touch with state regulatory agencies, and became concerned at what he learned about Silvies Valley Ranch.

The message from Whitman was particularly candid compared to other emails Kitzhaber received from his staff.

“[Silvies Valley Ranch has] carried out their work without obtaining, or even applying or attempting to obtain, federal or state permits,” Whitman wrote to Kitzhaber on June 20, 2014. “I am told that on the order of 1,000 (yes, that’s right, one thousand) small dams/water retention structures have been constructed without state removal-fill permits. State and federal agencies report that the work is blocking fish passage (redband), as well as killing riparian vegetation.”

Kitzhaber wanted the state’s concerns about Campbell’s ranch resolved before the summit. “He wasn’t comfortable attending if the regulatory matter wasn’t resolved,” Whitman says in an email to WW.

The Department of State Lands got Campbell to agree to a nine-page consent decree, which detailed the unpermitted in-water work he’d been doing at Silvies Valley Ranch for more than a decade. 

Campbell tells WW he hadn’t known he needed permits to do the work. He agreed by January 2016 to file a plan to fix any damage to waterways. Instead of facing civil penalties, Campbell agreed to make a payment of $10,000 to the Common School Fund.

A Department of State Lands spokeswoman declined to comment on the agreement.

Even as he and the state were finalizing the consent agreement, Campbell copied Kitzhaber on emails that illustrated his frustration with regulators, such as the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “Seriously, getting rid of two or three mid level egomaniacs there would increase economic growth in eastern Oregon by ten percent all by itself when folks realized you could actually get something approved,” Campbell wrote on July 19, 2014.

Campbell’s Frontier Summit proceeded as planned on June 22 and 23, 2014. Eighty invitees—including eight lawmakers, the heads of the Oregon Business Council and Oregon Business Association, and the first couple—dined on barbecued goat, roasted vegetables and whiskey. A rare thunderstorm ripped the desert sky, but Campbell had ordered a tent more than large enough to accommodate his guests.

Kitzhaber and Hayes flew in from the Hillsboro Airport on Campbell’s private plane to kick off the event.

“She spoke a lot longer than John did,” says one attendee who asked not to be identified. “He didn’t say much at all.”

Emails show Kitzhaber had to leave the two-day gathering early for a fundraiser in Los Angeles hosted by Dean Devlin, producer of the television series Leverage, which filmed in Portland from 2008 to 2012.

Kitzhaber’s emails don’t show much follow-up after the Frontier Summit, except for two messages: He asked a fundraising consultant how much money Campbell had given his re-election campaign so he could hit up another summit attendee, New Seasons Market co-founder Chuck Eggert, for the same amount. Eggert gave $2,500.

Campbell sent Kitzhaber a few messages of support later in 2014, especially as questions about Hayes’ consulting work grew.

In December, Campbell sent Kitzhaber an email (one he tells WW he now regrets) in which he railed against state natural resources agencies and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which was beginning an inquiry into Kitzhaber and Hayes.

“They take microscopes to try to find some rule they can over interpret to make any good deed look bad,” Campbell wrote Dec. 13, 2014. “I hope the ethics commission got themselves defunded in your budget—they are not helping Oregon be better, but rather taking us back to the Stone Age!” 

ONLINE: This story is part of a WW series based on emails that former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office attempted to delete from state computers. Read more at For more on Scott Campbell, see  "Rent a Pup"our November 2012 cover story on the Campbell-founded Hannah: The Pet Society.

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