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Kitzhaber's actions

ODOT, flickr

Abuse of public resources, controversial payments for consulting, a sham marriage, and a pot-growing scheme before marijuana was semi-legalized: these are some of the scandals dogging Cylvia Hayes, fiancée of John Kitzhaber, Oregon’s longest serving governor. And the outcry over these conflicts and the investigations into these alleged ethics violations led to his recent resignation.

 Governor John Kitzhaber, who began his career in Roseburg, Oregon, officially announced his resignation on Feb. 13, stepping down from his position as Oregon’s recently re-elected governor. Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) was sworn in as the governor of Oregon, effective Feb. 18.

In his statement of resignation, published in full on kptv.com, Kitzhaber said, “I am confident that I have not broken any laws nor taken any actions that were dishonest or dishonorable in their intent or outcome.

“But the questions that have been raised about my administration – specifically allegations against me concerning the work done by my fiancé Cylvia Hayes and the contracts she obtained during my last term – and the escalating media frenzy that has stemmed from this has clearly reached the point of no return.”

The Investigation
Kitzhaber’s Actions:Investigators’ Actions:
Asks The Oregon Government Ethics Commission and Attorney General “to take a full and comprehensive look at [his] actions…” Oregon Government Ethics Commission and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum investigate Kitzhaber, Hayes
May have encouraged the hiring of Hayes’s consulting contacts, according to leaked emails (KOIN 6 News) Oregon Attorney General suspends state investigation at request of Federal Investigators and U.S. Attorney (http://www.doj.state.or.us)
May have attempted to help Hayes avoid ethics investigation, according to leaked emails (KOIN 6 News) IRS investigates Hayes’s possible federal income tax violations
Requests investigation into leaking of emails. The Oregon State Police investigate leaking of Kitzhaber’s emails

 The controversy surrounding Cylvia Hayes and now former governor John Kitzhaber primarily revolves around conflict of interest issues and potential ethics violations. Allegedly, Hayes was paid by energy groups to actively seek energy policy change, policies that could impact Oregon law. Hayes’s influence was enhanced by her involvement and access to the governor’s office, according to Willamette Week. 

The recent accusations of influence pandering surfaced shortly after media reports of questionable behavior in Hayes’s past overshadowed then-governor Kitzhaber’s re-election campaign. Hayes admitted she illegally accepted $5,000 to marry an Ethiopian immigrant to help him obtain citizenship.

Hayes also acknowledged she was involved in a property purchase in the state of Washington that was bought with the intention of starting a marijuana growing operation. Hayes claims she was a victim who went along with an abusive boyfriend’s plans, according to KGW.com, the Portland affiliate of NBC news. (For a timeline of the controversies surrounding Hayes and Kitzhaber go to http://www.kgw.com/story/news/investigations/2015/02/09/timeline-john-kitzhaber-and-cylvia-hayes/23151471/).

These issues were brought to light towards the end of the election, but did not prevent Kitzhaber from being re-elected. However, the build-up of the ethics controversies sparked official investigations by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, the Oregon Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney General’s office, the IRS, and the FBI, leading to Kitzhaber’s resignation.

According to reporters Nick Bundick and Laura Gunderson of The Oregonian, in February 2011, Hayes acknowledged her consulting business and position as the first lady of Oregon could create potential conflicts of interest. Hayes told the Bend, Oregon, newspaper The Bulletin, “I have stepped back from my consulting work and chosen to route my work through this really credible not-for-profit organization to avoid any potential conflict of interest – and as many of the perception challenges as possible.”

However, in October 2014, Nigel Jaquiss of The Willamette Week reported, “[Hayes’s] dual roles have created tension in Kitzhaber’s office and have raised concerns that she may be violating provisions of ORS Chapter 244, the state’s government ethics law. The law prohibits public officials from engaging in conflicts of interest, from using their positions for private gain and from using public resources for personal benefit.”

Then, last month on Feb. 5, Niraj Chokshi of the Washington Post reported, “All told, Hayes has collected at least $213,000 in various consulting fees since Kitzhaber took office in 2011.”

Jonothan Topaz of Politico also reported that “[Hayes] conceded … she earned $118,000 over two years from the Clean Economy Development Center while she was advising the governor on energy policy.”

Other controversies surround Hayes’s use of the title of first lady while working in paid positions for companies and using public resources. For example, Willamette Week reported Hayes was being introduced as “Oregon’s first lady” while giving public speeches for the company Demos instead of being introduced as their paid consultant, which she was. The Oregonian also reported on complaints that Hayes was using the governor’s office staff to assist Hayes with “mundane personal responsibilities.”

The editorial board of The Oregonian emphasized these conflicts of interest and potential abuses of public resources when it called for Kitzhaber’s resignation: “To recite every reported instance in which Hayes, ostensibly under Kitzhaber’s watchful eye, has used public resources, including public employee time and her ‘first lady’ title, in pursuit of professional gain would require far more space than we have here and, besides, repeat what most readers already know. Suffice it to say there’s a pattern, and the person who bears the responsibility for allowing it to form and persist is Kitzhaber, who should know better.”