UPDATE (Feb. 16, 3:51 p.m. PST) — The Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted unanimously Friday that former Gov. John Kitzhaber violated state ethics law and used his office for personal gain.
The commission was considering an investigation released earlier this week that focused on the former governor’s decision to place his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, in a state role where she could have used her position to financially benefit their household.
Ethics Commission Chair Alison Kean said Kitzhaber allowed for “lines to be blurred” and the former governor knew Hayes was working to secure private work on similar issues that she was pursuing on behalf of the state. Hayes was paid about $200,000 for paid consulting work she did on green energy consulting projects.
Kean said former Gov. Kitzhaber "knew enough."
"[Hayes] wasn’t sneaking in the meetings or sneaking into doing private work, completely unbeknownst to him,” Kean said.
Later, she added, “To not hold a former governor with so much experience to a standard that every other employee is held to because he decided it was easier to go along with his fiancee’s demands than his staff’s concerns, that would be a disservice to this state and a disservice to why we are here.”
Kitzhaber testified to the commission. He apologized for missteps and said he wanted to be held accountable. But he stressed several times that he never used the governor’s office intentionally to make money for himself or for Hayes. After 26 years of public service, the former governor said, he didn’t suddenly decide to corrupt the office. He said he was pleased to have the opportunity for the first time in three years to appear in front of a body charged with looking at the facts.
“My concern is the assault on my integrity,” he said. “That means more to me than you will ever know.”
Several commissioners pushed back on the argument of "intent." Commissioner Richard Burke said the state’s ethics laws aren’t based on intent. Burke said he believes Kitzhaber never tried to enrich himself using his office. But, he continued, if everyone were able to successfully use the "lack of intent" as a defense, Oregon's ethic laws would be incredibly weak.
Several commissioners told Kitzhaber they were grateful for the work he had done for the state.
Commissioner Charles Starr said he wasn’t surprised Kitzhaber showed up to face the commission. He said in decades of doing business with him, he's always found the governor to be “upfront and honest.”
“I believe the mistakes that were made in this regard were unintentional,” Starr said.
Ethics Com. Starr said he’s convinced Kitzhaber is an “honorable man” and didn’t purposefully violate state law, but added “the outcome is quite obvious.” The commission is discussing now and will vote soon. #orpol pic.twitter.com/cYWVq151gj— Lauren Dake (@LaurenDake) February 16, 2018
But later, the commissioner added they were “terribly serious” mistakes made at the highest level.
“It’s unfortunate it’s come to this. I’m convinced he’s an honorable man. He didn’t purposefully do this, but the outcome is quite obvious,” Starr said.
The governor accepted responsibility for some of the other ethics violations, such as mistakenly using frequent flier miles intended for state business and failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
While testifying, Kitzhaber’s tone was apologetic.
"I apologize to my family. I apologize to my former chief of staff and my legal counsel and most of all, to my fellow Oregonians," Kitzhaber said.
Kitzhaber could face up to $50,000 in fines, but the commission did not vote on fees Friday.
The commission ruled Kitzhaber violated state law in 10 instances. He could still appeal the commission’s findings.