For the Good of Illinois

Forbes: The Redacted Transparency Promise of Oregon Governor Kate Brown

May 17, 2018 09:30 AM
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The Redacted Transparency Promise of Oregon Governor Kate Brown

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At first, we questioned why Oregon Governor Kate Brown spent taxpayer money on pricey yoga classes, brewery trips, movie tickets, hundreds of expensive car washes, a Canadian kayak trip, and expenses on her luxurious vacation to West Palm Beach, Florida… But then it got worse.
 
During her first two terms, our audit revealed Governor Kate Brown redacted nearly 4,000 items from her official state calendar. The governor redacted calendar entries on nine out of every ten days since taking office. In addition to these transparency issues, we found potential violations of Oregon state law regarding Brown’s credit card spending.
 
The governor is flaunting Oregon open records laws and blurring the line between the taxpayer-funded agency resources and her campaign activities. Furthermore, Brown used public funds for private purposes – during her time as secretary of state and as governor.
 
Oregon taxpayers should demand answers.
she taking citizens for a ride? (Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
 
Our previous oversight of Governor Brown exposed troubling patterns. For example, last year, our auditors found the governor solicited $518,203 in campaign donations from hundreds of state vendors. Those state vendors reaped millions of dollars in state contracts.
 
Earlier this year, we found Brown’s office designated 52 employees as lobbyists, but disclosed zero dollars in lobbying expenditures on the official Oregon Ethics Commission website – during a 21-month period. Our oversight forced Brown to amend her filings, disclosing $165,489 in payments to her lobbyists.
 
Now we’ve discovered systemic redactions from Brown’s calendar. Through Brown’s first 1,156 days as governor (February 2015 through April 2018), 994 days on her official calendar included redacted information. There are up to 14 line-item redactions per day.
 
Oregon State Law (ORS 192.355 Section 2a) allows redactions for information of a "personal nature" (i.e. doctor’s appointments). But in Brown’s calendar, there were nearly 4,000 items redacted, including names of people Brown met with, travel locations, campaign events, and even entire calendar days.
 
Brown’s calendar was packed with 500 events tagged as "campaign," with further details redacted. When we asked the governor for comment, spokesperson Chris Pair cited a circuit court case – not a completely settled law – arguing the public has no right to know:
 
"Campaign information is not a matter of ‘public record’ under the Oregon Public Records Law. See Oracle America, Inc. v. Brown, No. 15CV30762 at *12 (Marion Cnty. Cir. Ct. Aug. 24, 2016)"
 
However, the governor didn’t explain why a taxpayer-funded calendar platform is used to book, schedule, and keep track of 500 campaign events. According to the governor’s own internal 'political activities' policy, "employees are expressly prohibited from using any work time or any state resources to conduct political activities."
 
Therefore, if state employees on state time are entering campaign events, meetings, and activities on the governor’s taxpayer-funded calendar, then it certainly looks like a violation of the iron wall between state agency resources and campaign activities.
 
Consider just a few examples of Brown hiding campaign events, trips, and other activities on her taxpayer-funded calendar:
 
  • July 6, 2016: This day started out with a redacted campaign event at 7:00 am. During the late morning, Brown’s calendar shows a roundtable discussion and tour in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and various phone calls. The rest of the day, however, is entirely hidden – six separate campaign events and meetings were blacked out along with their locations.
  • May 3, 2017: On this trip to Washington, D.C., Brown redacted information about four campaign events in the morning and another event in the evening. Additionally, two non-campaign meetings and a conference call on this day were redacted from the entry. Overall, just two hours of Brown’s D.C. schedule was disclosed.
  • August 17, 2017: The only events on this day not blacked out were a media interview at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and a lunch break. Brown redacted seven different campaign events, including their locations, and one conference call.
  • October 23, 2017: Traveling in San Francisco, Brown’s only disclosed events were marked as "travel time." Brown spent nearly the entire day campaigning – redacting details on six separate events – and redacted information about two non-campaign events starting at 8:00 pm.
  • February 23, 2018: On another trip to Washington, D.C., Brown spent her entire day campaigning. After a 4:00 am MSNBC interview – the only non-redacted event on the calendar – Brown’s day consisted of eleven blacked-out campaign events, lasting from 5:00 am until 10:00 pm.
Redactions raise red flags. If the governor has nothing to hide, she should disclose more of her activities. When we asked the governor for comment regarding her 4,000 calendar redactions, spokesperson Pair pointed to a public safety exception:
 
"Governor Brown took the extraordinary step of releasing her calendar to the public, proactively, on a weekly basis. Redacted from these calendars are entries exempt from disclosure, such as Oregon State Police information about the Governor’s physical safety."
 
Here’s the problem with that argument: We didn’t count redacted names of the assigned security officers. There are 4,000 items redacted from the governor’s calendar without counting these security detail redactions.
 
Not only has Governor Brown redacted major portions of her official calendar, she has hindered citizens’ ability to follow the money flowing from her office. We filed an Open Records request for the governor’s credit card spending, but we can’t tell how many credit cards her office issued because, too many times, cardholder names were redacted.
 
Digging into the disclosed transactions, our auditors found a pattern of using the office credit cards to pay for private legal dues and personal expenses. This is disconcerting because using public credit for a private purpose is illegal in Oregon and across most other states.
 
As secretary of state, Brown charged her annual $537 Oregon State Bar membership fees to an office credit card in her name. It wasn’t enough that Brown received $18,000 in expense stipends over a six-year period, she still charged-off her private law dues with the agency’s plastic.
 
We gave the governor an opportunity to respond on the record:
 
"Does the governor want to make a statement regarding her use of the public credit card as secretary of state to pay for her Oregon Bar Association dues?"
 
Office of the Governor Spokesperson Chris Pair: "No."
 
On multiple occasions, the governor admitted to using public credit for a private purpose. In April 2016, Brown indulged at a high-end restaurant at River’s Edge Hotel and Spa called Aquariva, spending $126.60. Later that year, Brown spent $362.94 at Office Depot on personal items. In both cases, Brown was caught by her accounting department and forced to reimburse the state (taxpayers) for what could be considered theft of public funds.
 
Forbes_PettyTheft
 
We found Brown’s administration continued the governor's president to use office funds to cover personal law dues. This time, it was $1,671 in payments to cover law dues for at least two staffers who work as deputies and policy advisors:
 
  • The governor’s office charged-off Gina Zejdlik’s bar dues in 2017 even though Zedjlik was Brown’s interim chief of staff, then took the deputy chief of staff position. Zedjlik’s salary spiked from $108,836 (2015) to 129,936 (2017) – that’s plenty of money to pay her own dues.
  • The governor’s office charged-off Heidi Moawad’s bar dues for the last two years. Moawad is Brown’s public safety and military policy advisor earning a $130,146 salary. Our data, however, shows that Moawad is paid through the Department of Corrections payroll – not by the governor’s office. What kind of a shell-game is being played here?
When former Governor John Kitzhaber resigned from office amidst a corruption scandal, Kate Brown took over, promising a new day in Salem. Instead of keeping her promises, Brown is creating a disappointing legacy.
 
Read the governor’s spokesperson full response to our questions regarding these payments here.
 
Spokesman_Chris_Pair_Response_Photo
 
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