SALEM — Ethics legislation with a partisan past has the support of the lawmaker who was the target of an earlier version.
House Bill 4077 by Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, would close what the Democratic Party of Oregon dubbed “The Buehler Loophole” when similar legislation was introduced last year. The 2017 bill died in committee at the end of the session.
The Democratic Party said the legislation would have closed what it called a loophole in state ethics laws that allowed Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, to legally omit the extent of income he received from companies that do business with the state.
Buehler said late Friday he will support the bill.
“This legislation brings clarity to an unclear reporting rule — I will support it,” Buehler said in an email.
At a hearing on the bill Thursday, Rayfield told the House Rules Committee, of which he is a member, that it was good public policy to require the most transparency possible in outside financial interests of officeholders and candidates.
Specifically, the bill requires that the state-required “Statement of Economic Interest” include information about sources of income for a business in which a public official or candidate, or member of a household of a public official or candidate, is an officer or holds directorship. The income only has to be reported if the individual’s source of income is over $1,000, has “legislative or administrative interest,” and amounts to 10 percent or more of total gross annual income of the business.
Under current state law, candidates are only required to report money they receive as individuals, not payments to businesses they own.
Most state elected officials and candidates must submit the ethics statement each year. It is intended to allow the public to see any possible conflicts of interest between a politician’s actions and the politician’s own personal financial interests. It includes income sources, property owned and additional business interests.
All of the testimony submitted on the 2018 bill was in favor of its passage.
“Most Oregonians do share common values about our democracy — that it should work for everyone, driven by principles of fairness, honesty, and high ethical standards, that everyone has a right to know who is influencing our elections or lobbying our government, and that our voice and vote should not be a function of wealth,” wrote Kate Titus of Common Cause Oregon, an open-government group.
Daniel Meek, spokesman for the Progressive Party of Oregon, praised the effort, but said he hoped the law can be expanded in scope in the future.
“While this is an improvement over existing law, it limits the filing requirement to such businesses, if the public official or candidate is a director or officer of the business,” Meek said. “Such filing should also be required if the public official or candidate is an employee of the business or a contractor of the business.”
Also supporting the bill were the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 2017, Democrats filed a complaint with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission stating that Buehler, who was already considering a run for the GOP nomination for governor, had violated state ethics laws by not reporting over $100,000 in payments received from businesses that do business with the state.
Buehler is an orthopedic surgeon and owner of a medical-related businesses.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted 6-0 in July to send Buehler a “letter of education,” admonishing him for failing to report $12,500 he received as a member of the St. Charles Health System board of directors. The maximum penalty could have been a $5,000 fine.
But the commission dismissed the bulk of the complaint, including $96,000 in payments from medical-device manufacturer Stryker Corp. to Buehler Research and Design, a company Buehler owns.
Buehler said at the time that he was following the law.
“I am pleased that the ethics commission carefully reviewed these politically motivated claims,” Buehler said at the time. “This is the appropriate response to an inadvertent paperwork filing error on my part that I have now fixed.”
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