SALEM — Former Gov. John Kitzhaber broke state ethics laws 11 times and could be fined up to $55,000 for the infractions, according to the findings of an investigation released Wednesday.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is scheduled to vote Friday whether to accept the findings of the 131-page report. It details findings of conflict-of-interest, using the governor’s office for personal gain and receiving gifts above the state-allowed maximum.
What, if any, penalty will be levied against Kitzhaber will likely be decided at the commission’s March 30 meeting. Each violation carries a maximum penalty of $5,000.
An earlier agreement between Kitzhaber and the commission staff that called for a $1,000 fine was rejected by the panel as too lenient.
Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015, just a month into his fourth term, amid federal and state investigations.
The allegations of influence-peddling and conflict-of-interest centered on Kitzhaber’s fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, whom he dubbed the state’s “first lady.”
The ex-governor has acknowledged he should have sought guidance from the ethics commission on Hayes’ role. While living with Kitzhaber, Hayes’ consulting firm, 3E Strategies, was paid for work she did on behalf of alternative energy interests.
Kitzhaber denies allegations that he personally gained from any action he took while in office or accepted inappropriate gifts.
Hayes faces up to $110,000 in fines after the commission decided last month that she violated state law 22 times. The commission could announce its penalties against Hayes at its Friday meeting.
Hayes has argued that the commission has no authority over her actions since she held no official role, despite Kitzhaber arranging for her to have an office in the Capitol and access to staff.
Hayes could also be liable to pay up to twice the amount of any profits related to her activities. The commission said Hayes received more than $200,000 to advocate for alternative energy and economic development. The allegations against Kitzhaber about personal gain while in office stem from the money coming into the joint household he shared with Hayes.
The report found that Kitzhaber and Hayes accepted United Airlines MileagePlus program frequent flier miles and elite status, received when Hayes complained about what she said was substandard service on a United flight. The frequent flier miles and their value has been the focus of the gift reporting allegation.
Both the U.S. Justice Department and the Oregon attorney general’s office closed their investigations of Kitzhaber and Hayes without filing charges.
The ethics commission had put its probe on hold in deference to the state and federal investigations. The commission reopened its investigation when no criminal action was taken against Kitzhaber and Hayes.
— Reporter: 541-525-5280, firstname.lastname@example.org