SALEM, Ore. - In the wake of federal prosecutors’ decision not to file criminal charges against former Gov. John Kitzhaber and fiancee Cylvia Hayes, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission will resume its investigation, which was suspended for more than two years while the federal probe was underway.
In a brief news release Tuesday, ethics panel Executive Director Ron Bersin said, “The commission’s preliminary review was suspended in February 2015, when the criminal investigations began. The preliminary review will now resume.”
Bersin also said state law requires the review to be conducted confidentially, with no public disclosure or comment, other than to acknowledge a complaint is pending.
“The confidentiality requirement applies only to commission personnel," he added. "The ability of other persons to comment publicly about this matter is not affected."
The Oregonian reported the investigation was begun after ethics complaints were filed in the fall of 2014 by the Oregon Republican Party and then-state Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem. They asked the panel to investigate reports Hayes used her position as an unpaid official advisor to the governor on environmental and economic issues to benefit her Bend-based consulting business.
Hayes was paid more than $200,000 during the governor’s tenure by groups seeking to influence Oregon’s environmental and economic policies.
Kitzhaber has maintained he did nothing wrong. He said he resigned in 2015 because the media frenzy prevented him from being an effective leader.
Pacific University government politics and government professor Jim Moore said on Tuesday's OPB "Think Out Loud" program the ethics bodies' potential actions are limited, in part because Kitzhaber has been out of office for more than two years, but also due to the relatively vague nature of Oregon's ethics laws.