Oregon Governor introduces ethics reform after Kitzhaber scandal

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 12, 2015 2:12 PM

By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat who took office last month after her predecessor resigned in an influence-peddling scandal, is promoting a package of ethics and public records reform bills, the governor’s office said on Thursday.

The legislation proposed by Brown would raise the penalty for knowingly using public office for private gain and would bar statewide elected officials, as well as the governor's spouse, from collecting fees for speaking engagements while in office. 

Brown took office last month after the resignation of her predecessor, fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, who faces a federal corruption probe into allegations that his fiancée used her unpaid position in his office for personal financial gain. 

"Oregon's government belongs to its people, and an informed, engaged populace is essential to democracy," Brown said in a statement announcing the trio of bills.

"Another essential element is trust, and rebuilding that trust begins now. These reforms are designed to ensure the timely fulfillment of public records requests, to hold public officials accountable, and foster a culture of transparency."

Another piece of Brown's legislation calls for an audit of state agency responses to public records requests, to be conducted by the secretary of state’s office. The audit could be used to shape new legislation, best practices or executive orders by Brown, her office said.

The legislation would also allow other statewide elected officials, not just the governor, to appoint members of the state's ethics commission, and would remove a requirement that any ethics review stop amid a criminal probe. Kitzhaber had been facing an ethics review as well before a criminal probe began. 

Brown’s office is in the process of working on her reform legislation and seeking a sponsor, staff members said. 

State Representative Julie Parrish, a Republican, has already introduced similar legislation aimed at ethics reform and met with Brown’s staff earlier this week, she said. 

"We both agree that there needs to be change in the role of what the first spouse looks like,” Parrish said but added that an audit on public records requests would take too long and that any public records reforms need to go beyond state agencies. 

"I don’t think hers necessarily goes as far as I’d like it to go but I think she’s tracking the right direction,” she said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jonathan Oatis)