SALEM, Ore. - (Update: Details on Ethics Commission's timeline, 30-day initial review, searchable SEI database)
State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, disputed as "false and politically motivated" a state ethics complaint filed against him Wednesday by the Democratic Party of Oregon, alleging he failed to disclose nearly $100,000 in payments from drug and medical device companies.
The complaint filed with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission claims Buehler's required Statement of Economic Interest filings for 2014-16 failed to disclose 69 payments totaling $96,946 he received from Stryker Corporation and Pfizer Inc. in consulting fees, speeches, associated research, travel, lodging and food. The party noted both firms contract with the state and have legislative interests in the state.
The complaint also claims that Buehler failed to disclose $12,500 he received in 2013 as a paid board member for St. Charles Health System, which should have been reported on his 2014 SEI. They said Buehler continues to receive payments from St. Charles, which currently has at least three state contracts, as well as having legislative interests.
“Rep. Buehler has made a public point of expressing concern about pay to play politics in Oregon, but his own actions appear to violate state ethics laws and deserve a full investigation,” said Jeanne Atkins, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon. “On review of this evidence, I asked that the party file the complaint.”
Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon at The Center, issued the following statement in response to the complaint's allegations:
"These are false and politically motivated allegations and an abuse of the ethics process. I look forward to having them dismissed, and remain focused on representing my constituents on the important issues facing Oregonians."
The party said its complaint relies on data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Open Payment Program, which provides information about how much money physicians receive from the pharmaceutical industry and medical device companies.
Buehler has served as a consultant for Stryker Corporation since at least 2000, the party's news release said. It noted that in 2013, Stryker agreed to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission $13.2 million for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, after making payments of more than $2.2 million to doctors, health care professionals and government employees. In November of 2014, Stryker also agreed to pay at least $1.4 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits by US patients who had surgeries to revise problematic Stryker hip replacements.
“We contend that as a candidate and a state legislator, Rep. Buehler knowingly and purposely hid his financial relationships with pharmaceutical and medical device corporations,” said Brad Martin, executive director of the Democratic Party of Oregon. “Rep. Buehler knew his campaigns would be damaged by being associated with a company like Stryker, that has paid millions for violating the laws and to settle lawsuits from patients whose surgeries were botched.”
An aide to Buehler, Chief of Staff Jordan Conger, also shared an email exchange with NewsChannel 21 in which he asked a Government Ethics Commission analyst, Tammy Hedrick, whether Buehler, who owns a research and design firm that has done consulting work for Stryker, has to report them on his SEI form.
Hedrick responded that Stryker is not “a business with which the representative is associated,” and thus “Buehler would not have a reporting requirement” under state statute.
But Martin, the Democratic Party executive director, said the federal CMS form clearly shows the payments in the complaint went to Buehler directly, “and not to one of his nine different companies.”
“We feel we have solid standing here,” Martin said.
Oregon Government Ethics Commission Executive Director Ben Bersin explained to NewsChannel 21 on Thursday that generally, under state statue, the agency has 30 days to complete a cursory review of each complaint, then make a recommendation to the commission on whether to conduct a full investigation or dismiss the complaint.
"Either way, it becomes a public record," Bersin said.
If a full investigation is deemed warranted, the agency is generally allowed 180 days to complete it, then return to the commission with a recommendation on whether to find there was a violation or dismiss the complaint, Bersin said.
The respondent is invited to provide information during the initial 30-day period, which Bersin said is a "high-level, cursory review," as there is "not enough time to delve deeply" into the allegations.
Saturday is the filing deadline for elected officials to submit their 2017 Statements of Economic Interest, which is for the year 2016. Past years are available for search on the ethics panel's Website under "Electronic Filing System" on the left-hand column.