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Former Oregon governor apologizes, to be fined $1,000

 

SALEM — Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber apologized Wednesday for failing to publicly declare a potential conflict of interest between his elected position and his partner's work and will pay a $1,000 fine, capping a scandal that cost him the governorship.

The settlement is subject to final approval by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which meets on Friday.

“I apologize to Oregonians for failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest, although the ethical violations at issue were wholly unintentional,” Kitzhaber said in a statement.

As part of the agreement, the commission will drop further investigation into whether Cylvia Hayes used her relationship as Kitzhaber's fiancee to win contracts for her green-energy consulting business. The commission noted it could have assessed fines for the known violations, which also included Kitzhaber being credited frequent flier miles once when he traveled on state business — up to a total of $20,000.

After investigating the matter, the U.S. Department of Justice said in June that the couple won't face criminal charges. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum previously announced the state would not bring charges.

The ethics commission said there were potential conflicts of interest when Kitzhaber's duties as governor overlapped with the issues that Hayes’ consulting firm, 3E Strategies, was receiving payment for. 3E Strategies could have had financial gains or losses stemming from Kitzhaber's policy decisions and public appearances, the commission said.

Oregon law “requires an elected public official to make a public announcement of the nature of the potential conflict of interest prior to taking any official action on the matter,” the commission wrote, adding that Kitzhaber failed to make such public announcements, for example through press releases.

The former governor said Wednesday he had not perceived a conflict of interest because Hayes’ work for non-profit organizations wasn't directed at influencing state policy, but to educate people on issues. He said he had referred matters regarding potential conflicts to general counsel, and wasn't advised he needed to publicly disclose them.

“Having said that, I do not dispute the conclusion by the Ethics Commission that my failure to declare a potential conflict of interest violated the letter of law,” Kitzhaber said Wednesday. “I accept full responsibility for this violation and believe the proposed settlement to be a fair resolution of the case.”

Secretary of State Kate Brown, also a Democrat, assumed Oregon's highest office after Kitzhaber resigned just over a month into his fourth term. She was elected last November to complete his term and is a candidate for re-election in 2018.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

 

Comments

Don Dix

No -- Friday, the commission voted 7 - 1 to deny the fine -- several members felt the fine wasn't an adequate punishment -- and by approval, the inquiry into ethics violations would have ended there.

“I accept full responsibility for this violation and believe the proposed settlement to be a fair resolution of the case", said Kitzhaber. Of course Kitzhaber felt the $1K fine was fair since it wasn't even a healthy slap on the wrist. Even some traffic violations are treated more harshly!

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