Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has agreed to pay a $20,000 civil penalty to settle 10 violations of state ethics law, signaling a close to the years-long scandal that forced him to resign.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission will meet Friday to sign off on the agreement, which Kitzhaber signed March 15. The maximum fine that could have levied was $50,000 — $5,000 per violation.
The violations stem from conflicts of interest involving an overlap between Kitzhaber’s role as governor and his interest in a business owned by First Lady Cylvia Hayes. Hayes had a dual role as an unpaid adviser in the governor's office and was privately paid to consult on the same issues.
The Ethics Commission and Kitzhaber had first agreed to settle for $1,000 in November, but the commissioners rejected the settlement. At the time, they said they wanted to see a more detailed investigation. They also had concerns about the size of the fine.
After the commissioners' decision, the Ethics Commission staff continued the investigation.
The 131-page investigative report, released Feb. 14, alleged Kitzhaber violated conflict-of-interest laws seven times, violated a law prohibiting the use of public office for private gain three times, and violated a law limiting gifts to public officials to $50 one time.
At their Feb. 16 meeting reviewing the investigation, the commission decided to remove one violation of misuse of office — for allowing a staff member to care for Hayes’ pets — after Kitzhaber explained that the staff member also was an old friend who volunteered to provide the care.
In signing the settlement, Kitzhaber will no longer be able to contest the ethics commission's findings.
Kitzhaber said during the meeting he was willing to admit he made mistakes of omission by trusting staffers and advisers to ensure his actions complied with ethics laws.
“I am more than happy and willing and ready to accept accountability for the mistakes I did make,” he said.
But he vehemently denied any attempt to attain financial gain for himself or for Hayes.
“I withstood the scrutiny of eight elections in 26 years,” he said. “This is the first time my integrity has ever been questioned."
Kitzhaber declined to comment through a spokesman Wednesday.
In January, the Ethics Commission found that Hayes committed 22 ethics violations during her time as First Lady. In addition to the maximum per violation fine of $5,000, the commission could require Hayes to forfeit up to twice the amount she earned from contracts received because of her access to top government officials.
At the time, commissioners said they would be unwilling to accept at settlement for much less than the maximum amount.
The two parties can come to a negotiated settlement — as Kitzhaber has — or a contested case hearing, where a judge reviews the case and arrives at a final order. The case could later be appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Reporter Tracy Loew contributed to this report.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich