Over the last few years, egregious scandals have rocked Oregon’s governor mansion. In 2015, John Kitzhaber resigned from office amidst a corruption scandal. Earlier this month, the Oregon Ethics Commission alleged
that former Oregon First Lady Cynthia Hayes blatantly disregarded state ethics law, personally profiting from her public position. The total fine could be as high as $110,000.
Since Kate Brown assumed the governorship, she has played the "ethics" reform card for political advantage. "I am the one responsible for ensuring a public records policy," the governor told
a reporter in late 2016.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com fact-checked Brown’s promises of transparency, accountability, and a new day in Salem.
We found what appears to be alleged violations of Oregon’s lobbyist disclosure laws. This is the set of laws that national democrats are using to try and hold President Donald Trump’s administration accountable.
Since 2016, Brown has designated
52 "Office of Governor" employees as "lobbyists" working on the "governor’s agenda." However, Brown’s official "Lobbyist Expenditure Report" displayed on the Oregon Ethics Commission website showed
zero dollars spent on lobbying for the past seven quarters (website screenshot from 1/23/2018 here
It wasn't possible that the governor’s office spent zero dollars, and it wasn’t until our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com asked for confirmation that Brown’s office churned out records showing $165,489 in lobbying costs.
Now, the governor’s open records lawyer is "on the record," confirming these new disclosures as official (click here for emails
). But, our analysis shows the records are still wrong – inaccurate and incomplete (review the new records here
The governor’s math doesn’t add up. For example, in the second quarter of 2016, Brown reported $11,885 in total lobbyist compensation costs. However, after adding up compensation to Brown’s 30 lobbyists, the total actually sums to $24,510.
Then, look at the "reimbursed" column. Brown’s new disclosures still show zero dollars spent on reimbursements, or any other overhead for lobbying. The governor's filings require you to suspend belief that her 52 lobbyists never ate a meal, drove their car, used their cell phone, sent an email, or made even a single expenditure outside of the pro rata calculation of salary expense.
Furthermore, the new documents show $10,201 paid to Governor Kate Brown herself in lobbying compensation, even though the Oregon lobbyist registration law specifically exempts the governor from registering or reporting as a lobbyist.
To accomplish her legislative goals, Brown pushed the edges of ethics while hiding lobbying efforts on behalf of her agenda. Here are three examples of aggressive lobbying behavior:
- The governor hired former state representative Peter Buckley part-time for $60,000 to lobby her legislation despite a 2007 law that requires former lawmakers to take a session-long cooling-off period between leaving office and assuming lobbyist work. Brown argued her office – as a public agency – was exempt from that law. The governor’s new filing only shows $113 in lobbyist compensation to Buckley.
- Brown’s staffers Chris Pair and Bryan Hockaday allegedly violated state ethics laws by filing late lobbyist disclosure reports. The Oregon Ethics Commission issued "letters of education" while reprimanding both.
- The governor even politicized her "good government" open records attorney, Emily Matasar. In 2017, a press release announced Matasar’s newly expanded lobbyist role, and newspapers have covered her advocacy activity. Still, the ethics website shows zero dollars spent while new disclosures show $1,106 for Matasar.
Recently, the governor’s office decided that our open records request for the calendar of Ivo Trummer – the governor’s legislative director and, therefore, her chief lobbyist – "does not primarily benefit the general public." The governor wants to charge us hundreds of dollars for an electronic copy. The open records attorney issuing the opinion protecting Trummer was Matasar – one of the governor’s lobbyists.
Brown’s staff argues that they filed their ethics reports on time by uploading disclosure information showing $165,884 in lobbyist compensation to the backend of the Oregon Ethics Commission website. However, on the public-facing portion of the website, the governor’s office entered $0 for each of the last seven quarters via their electronic filing. We confirmed this with the ethics commission (view the screenshots here
We reached out to the Ron Bersin, Executive Director of the Oregon Ethics Commission (OEC), for comment, context, or background response (read our request here
). Mr. Bersin did not even acknowledge our request. However, one of the OEC investigators admitted
that Bersin was working with the governor to file ‘amended reports.’
Additionally, we contacted each of the governors staffers mentioned in our editorial, and none of them responded to comment. State law requires both lobbyists
and their employers
to file reports. Each of the governor’s staffers who are registered lobbyists are still reporting zero dollars spent on lobbying on their individual reports.
Governor Brown is the only constitutional officer in Oregon with zero dollars spent on lobbying for the last seven quarters on the Oregon Ethic Commission website. Though she eventually produced the records to us showing $165,489 in lobbyist expenditures, after six days, the official website still shows zero dollars spent by the Office of Governor.
So much for the self-titled champion of transparency and accountability.
Adam Andrzejewski (say: Angie-eff-ski) is the CEO and Founder of OpenTheBooks.com – one of the largest private databases of government spending in the world. Learn more about our oversight reporting regarding Oregon Governor Kate Brown published at Forbes, here.