Oregon ethics watchdog agrees Kitzhaber fiance violated law

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber escorts his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, onto the House floor before he is sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as governor in Salem, on Jan. 12, 2015.

Associated Press

SALEM (AP) — An ethics watchdog on Friday formally approved a preliminary report released earlier this week that found Cylvia Hayes violated state ethics laws nearly two dozen times while her fiance, Gov. John Kitzhaber, was in office.

The report completed for the Oregon Government Ethics Commission found that Hayes earned more than $200,000 during Kitzhaber's term from private groups that paid her to push green energy and economic development.

She was also pursuing those agendas as an unpaid — but official — adviser to the governor and the ethics commission found Hayes was only able to obtain the private advocacy jobs because of her unique status and access to Kitzhaber, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Hayes and her attorney did not attend the meeting. She did not return a call from The Associated Press on Friday.

The report contains her contention, presented by her attorney during a preliminary review, that she wasn't a public official. Therefore, she said, the commission has no jurisdiction over her actions.

The commission also voted to find that Hayes failed to properly handle the potential or actual conflicts that arose from her work, and accepted a gift worth more than the limit for public officials.

United Airlines granted Hayes and Kitzhaber Premium Platinum status, a perk that provided them benefits such as unlimited complimentary upgrades and access to private airport lounges, after Hayes complained about the airline's service, according to an ethics agency investigator.

The commission is expected to take up Kitzhaber's case next month. It rejected a settlement proposal by the former governor last year that would have shielded Hayes from further investigation.

"I would just want to let staff know that much of what happened here, since they share a household, is applicable to the governor," said commission chair Alison R. Kean. "(Hayes) was more sloppy in her records, meaning she gave us a lot of information. But let's remember the information is also information on the governor because he agreed to it."

Kean pointed out that Kitzhaber advocated for Hayes to have access and power to shape policy in his administration.

Commissioners could eventually impose penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, for a total of $110,000. State law also provides the option to require a public official to forfeit some of the money he or she improperly obtained, commissioners said.

Hayes could request a hearing before an administrative law judge, the newspaper reported, or appeal the commission's findings.

After investigating the matter, the U.S. Department of Justice said in June that the couple won't face criminal charges.

The former governor has apologized for failing to make the public declarations.

Secretary of State Kate Brown, also a Democrat, assumed Oregon's highest office in 2015 after Kitzhaber resigned just over a month into his fourth term. She was elected last November to complete his term and is a candidate for re-election in 2018.

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