The Oregon Government Ethics Commission today voted to formally investigate potential ethics law violations by Gov. John Kitzhaber's top adviser on the Columbia River Crossing.
Patricia McCaig, who orchestrated Kitzhaber's successful push to get the now-defunct $3.5 billion project through the Oregon Legislature, is being investigated for the possible violation of eight ethics laws, a preliminary review obtained by WW says.
The report says McCaig may have violated laws against conflicts of interest and failing to register as a lobbyist.
"There appears to be a substantial objective basis to believe that violations of the Oregon Government Ethics law and Oregon Lobbying Regulation law may have occurred," says the report, made public after a Friday morning executive session, during which the commission voted unanimously to pursue the allegations against McCaig. McCaig was present when the commission voted.
McCaig, 58, was the focus of a Feb. 27 WW cover story. WW reported that, while McCaig holds the title of Kitzhaber's top adviser, her paychecks are signed by the CRC's biggest contractor, David Evans and Associates, which would have profited by the project going forward. McCaig has been paid more than $417,000 at a billing rate of $90 an hour.
McCaig also billed for hundreds of hours of work she did to convince lawmakers to approve the CRC, but never registered as a lobbyist, as the law requires.
Despite McCaig's success in Oregon, Washington senators rejected a transportation bill that included funding for the CRC on June 28. That same day, Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued statements saying the project will be stopped.
"It appears Ms. McCaig may have been a lobbyist," the report says.
According to the report, McCaig refuted the allegations. She said she never talked to or wrote legislative or executive officials "to influence or attempt to influence legislative action." McCaig instead writes that she only worked on a legislative strategy and provided factual information to lawmakers.
However, the review notes that McCaig's own contract with David Evans and Associates indicates that the CRC, the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation and DEA "were apparently to receive assistance in gaining a legislative result."
Oregon Government Ethics Commission Executive Director Ron Bersin says investigators will finish their work within 180 days.