Oracle America Corp. today filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County Court against the campaign consultants for former Gov. John Kitzhaber. The lawsuit alleges the consultants interfered with the state's handling of the troubled Cover Oregon health care web site in order to help Kitzhaber get re-elected.
The lawsuit names as defendants Patricia McCaig, Kevin Looper, Scott Nelson, Tim Raphael and Mark Wiener. Oracle is seeking damages of $23 million.
The lawsuit is the latest chapter in the dispute over who's to blame for the failure of Cover Oregon, the website that was supposed to allow Oregonians to buy health insurance online. The federal government provided $350 million for the project but it never worked.
As Kitzhaber approached the election year of 2014, reports of his mismanagement of Cover Oregon in The Oregonian and on KATU battered his popularity with voters.
As WW reported last year and again this week, Kitzhaber responded to his plummeting popularity by turning over control of the response to Cover Oregon to his campaign consultants, led by McCaig, a long-time confidante of the governor's. (Kitzhaber resigned Feb. 18 amid influence peddling allegations involving him and former first lady Cylvia Hayes.)
The 33-page complaint Oracle filed alleges that political expediency, rather than the public interest, drove the state's decisions to abandon the website Oracle built and to sue the company. Oracle says that by February, the website worked, but political consultants convinced Kitzhaber to abandon it.
Here's what the lawsuit says:
Defendantsâ interference caused Cover Oregon to âthrow away something
that has valueâ to the citizens of Oregon in order to further their own
political objectives of ending public discussion of Oregonâs HIX in
order to win re-election.
State law requires that campaign activity, which is aimed at electing candidates, be kept separate from government operations and decision-making. Oracle's lawyers make that argument today:
Persons holding political office are tasked with actingâ and are vested with power and authority to actâin the best interests of their constituents. Failure to maintain clear lines between the actions of the candidate and the actions of the elected official creates a conflict of interest and constitutes unethical behavior. When Defendants, paid campaign workers, tampered with the decision-making of Cover Oregon, they used the power and influence afforded them by their association with Governor Kitzhaber to shape the decision- making of an independent public corporation. These actions were unethical and improper.
"The lawsuit speaks for itself," Deborah Hellinger, an Oracle spokesperson said in a statement. "The work on the exchange was complete by February 2014, but going live with the website and providing a means for all Oregonians to sign up for health insurance coverage didn't match the former-Governor's re-election strategy to 'go after' Oracle.
"Political operatives Patricia McCaig, Kevin Looper, Scott Nelson, Tim Raphael, and Mark Wiener acted in the shadows," Hellinger continues, "and took actions to undermine the ability of Oregonians to receive health coverage; create a false narrative blaming Oracle for the state's failures; and ultimately interfere with Oracle's business."
The defendants were not immediately available for comment.