The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is meeting today to begin to consider allegations of ethical misconduct against Gov. John Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes.
Here are the five key issues the commission should be considering as they open the case against Kitzhaber and Hayes.
1. Hayes is a public official. On Oct. 13, Gov. John Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Government Ethics Commission whether his fiancée, First Lady Cylvia Hayes, is a public official. It's an important question. Hayes is subject to state ethics rules if she is a public official, as defined by state law. It's a curious question for Kitzhaber to ask, given that Kitzhaber has always considered Hayes to be a public official. The governor's general counsel, Liani Reeves, told WW in August that Hayes is. Kitzhaber and Hayes have variously argued the "first lady" title is not an official one, and that Hayes' work as an adviser to Kitzhaber is unpaid. None of that matters, and it's interesting that Kitzhaber is trying to extract Hayes from her role as a public official now that her actions have gotten them both into trouble. The ethics commission's own guide for public officials provides the following definition: "If the position for which you have volunteered serves the State of Oregon or any of its political subdivisions or any other public body, 'irrespective of whether' you are 'compensated' you are a public official." The guide says 200,000 people in Oregon are public officials.
2. As a public official, Hayes is subject to a central tenet of Oregon's ethics laws: Public officials cannot use their public positions for private benefit that would not be available "but for" the person's public position. As WW reported on Oct. 8, Hayes, while acting as an adviser to Kitzhaber on energy and economic development, signed three new consulting contracts in 2013 worth at least $85,000 with advocacy groups seeking to influence state policy. These are groups that she first worked with in her role as first lady and adviser to Kitzhaber. While doing so, she signed private consulting deals that enriched her personally. Those contracts tripled her income from the previous year.
3. Kitzhaber held Hayes to a different standard than other people in the governor's office—most notably himself. In December 2012, Kitzhaber asked the ethics commission for permission to make paid speeches to private groups. The commission told him he could do so, but only if he did not use his position as governor to obtain the paid work; did not use his title and did not use public resources, including staff time, to prepare. Yet when Hayes snagged her contracts in 2013, she took them on without first clearing the potential conflicts of interest with Curtis Robinhold, then Kitzhaber's chief of staff or Liani Reeves, his general counsel. In July 2013, they belatedly presented Hayes with conflict of interest forms advising her not to use her first lady title in private work or to use Mahonia Hall, the state-owned governor's mansion. Hayes declined to sign those forms. She signed them only after Robinhold and Reeves amended them to allow her to use her title and public resources—both of which the ethics commission had earlier cautioned Kitzhaber against doing—in her private consulting work.
4. The Oregon Business Council, an advocacy group funded by Oregon's largest employers, really appreciated Kitzhaber's willingness to carry out OBC's agenda—namely cutting public employee pension benefits and pushing for construction of the $3.2 billion Columbia River Crossing Project. In 2013, Hayes wanted more publicity for Kitzhaber's Prosperity Initiative than the governor's office could provide. She asked OBC executive director Duncan Wyse for help, and Wyse used grant money to hire a private spokeswoman who reported to Hayes. Ethics laws prohibit a person or group with a "legislative or economic interest" from giving something worth more than $50 to a public official or a member of that official's household. In other words, if Kitzhaber had the ability to push OBC's agenda, Hayes should not accept something worth more than $50 from the group.
5. And then there's Mary Rowinski. If her name is not familiar to most people, the ethics commission should get to know it soon. Ethics laws prohibit the use of public resources—such as computers, the governor's mansion or staff time—for private purposes. Documents Kitzhaber's office has provided to WW under Oregon's Public Records law shows Hayes instructing Rowinski, a state-paid assistant, to book meetings for her private business. WW has asked the governor's office for any and all communications regarding Hayes' use of Rowinski for her private business, but the office has not turned over those additional records. Sources tell WW many such documents exist, however; they show Hayes regularly directed Rowinski to book plane tickets, hotels and events related to her private consulting business. Hopefully the governor's office will soon comply with the public records law. The ethics commission should demand to see these records as well.
One final question: Each year, elected officials such as Kitzhaber must file a statement of economic interest with the state, detailing property holdings and sources of income. Hayes disclosed her 2013 contracts with Resource Media and the Energy Foundation, but she never disclosed a $25,000 contract with Demos, a New York-based group, whom she worked with as first lady and adviser to the governor before signing the contract. Why did Hayes fail to disclose this contract?