In an extraordinary press conference on Friday, January 30, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber addressed concerns about his fiancee Cylvia Hayes and her tax returns, and whether there were lapses in reporting of income under Oregon ethics laws. Financial disclosure forms require the reporting of all household income to the Oregon Ethics Commission. Allegations of impropriety have dogged Kitzhaber and Hayes since 2014. In a bombshell statement, he admits that he did not believe it necessary to report income Ms. Hayes received for a consulting contract, despite the disclosure forms clearly stating that “all household income” must be reported.
Either Governor Kitzhaber is woefully ignorant of the law, or he lied. (Kitzhaber’s Statement of Economic Interest can be seen by clicking here.)
The questions surround Cylvia Hayes and her consulting firm, E3 Strategies, and a contract with a clean energy company. Hayes earned $118,000 in income from that contract, but failed to report it on her taxes. Kitzhaber also failed to report it in his ethics commission filings.
At the 12:38 mark, Kitzhaber is directly asked if Hayes is a member of his household. His response: “I don’t know the legal answer to that. As I said earlier, we tried to use an abundance of caution in areas that we weren’t clear on. For example, there’s no legal definition of the term First Lady in the statute. I think most people consider her a public official, but the determination of whether she’s a public official is a legal determination, as is the question of whether she’s a member of the household.” [emphasis added]
“We were trying to err on the side of caution and transparency,” is his very next statement.
By not disclosing the income that is clearly required to be disclosed?
He goes on to say that they believed that they were not required to report various income because it was not a conflict of interest. He fails to explain why the Statement of Economic Interest does not make that distinction in its instructions.
Interestingly, at the 11:45 mark, he addresses Ms. Hayes’ current whereabouts, saying, “She is in Sweden on her own expense, visiting some friends, and then she’ll be traveling to Berlin to attend a meeting of the same group that funded the trip to Bhutan. It is a trip planned and paid for by the government of Germany. No state resources have been used to plan or pay for it.”
The Germany – Bhutan connection should be interesting to examine. Of course, Oregon Ethics Laws also prohibit the receipt of gifts of value for public officials. Perhaps Kitzhaber failed to watch this instructive video presentation, which can be found on the Oregon Ethics Commission website.
The press conference ended in a rather abrupt fashion, calling to mind the time he stormed off the set of a TV interview after repeated hard questions about the Cover Oregon fiasco. This time, repeated questions about when Hayes would be made available to the press caused Kitzhaber to snap. He repeatedly attempted to state that “she’s an independent woman and I don’t control her”, but follow up questions to the effect that “She’s a public official! When can we speak to her?” caused him to walk out and end the press conference.
From a crisis management strategy standpoint, this press conference was a disaster. From a legal standpoint, it sure looks as though Kitzhaber just got caught in a lie.