The Oregon Government Ethics Commission will launch a full investigation into whether former Gov. John Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes used their positions for financial gain.
Commissioners took the action at their regular meeting Friday morning after a 45 minute-long executive session that included Kitzhaber’s lawyer Janet Hoffman.
The commission launched a preliminary review in fall 2014 after then-state Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, and the Oregon Republican Party filed complaints.
In a preliminary review, the commission’s staffers have 30 days to finish a report that goes to the full commission, which then decides whether to dismiss the complaint or move to a full-scale investigation.
The commission suspended the preliminary review in February 2015 when state and federal criminal investigations into Kitzhaber and Hayes were launched.
Video: How did one of Oregon's most beloved politicians go from a historic 4th term to criminal investigation? Julius Lasin & David Davis / Statesman Journal Wochit
On June 16 federal prosecutors announced they would close their case without filing any charges. On June 20, the ethics commission resumed its review.
The commission now has 180 days to complete its full investigation.
The criminal inquiry revolved around payments made to Hayes’ consulting companies by groups seeking to influence state environmental policy at the same time she served as an unpaid advisor to the governor.
Oregon’s government ethics rules prohibit public officials from using their positions for financial gain and require public officials to declare potential or actual conflicts of interest.
The standard of proof for ethics violations is lower than for criminal charges.
Kitzhaber likely will try to settle the case, according to emails released under a public records request made by The Oregonian.
“We will convey that we are willing to take this all the way and have a strong case for prevailing,” Kitzhaber wrote in a Dec. 22, 2014 letter to his lawyer. “But the end game is not to actually have the complaints dismissed but rather to negotiate a stipulated settlement agreement in which we might acknowledge some minor mistakes we may have made and have the matter resolved at the March meeting.”
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