Hayes faces $100,000-plus in fines for ethics violations
SALEM — The Oregon Ethics Commission has unanimously voted that there is enough evidence to show former First Lady Cylvia Hayes violated ethics law 22 times largely by using her public position to win a paid fellowship and several contracts for her environmental consulting firm between 2011 and 2013.
Hayes served as a "super lobbyist" for private consulting clients who paid her to advocate on green energy, said Commissioner Daniel Mason.
"This is a case study in what you are not supposed to do as a public official. For that reason the statute gives us the authority to levy significant fines and I think that's what we should do," said Commissioner Nathan Sosa.
Hayes and her attorney were absent from the meeting Friday where the ethics commission reached its decision.
The vote establishes what the commission calls "preliminary findings of violation." Hayes may appeal the findings or reach a settlement with the agency before the agency issues a final order with penalties.
She faces fines of up to $110,000. On top of that, commissioners could propose she pay double the amount of money she received from work acquired as a result of her positions as first lady and policy adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber. That could equal hundreds of thousands of dollars, ethics investigator Marie Scheffers said.
The commission would have to prove that Hayes would not have secured the contracts without her public positions, said Ethics Commission Director Ron Bersin.
In addition to using her position for private gain, Hayes also accepted an unacceptable amount of gifts from people interested in influencing policy and failed to disclose several conflicts of interest, according to an ethics investigation report, released earlier this week. Investigators found 23 violations, but commissioners dismissed one of those violations related to the first lady's use of a dignitary protection unit — essentially the governor's security detail — for non-public business.
Commissioners briefly discussed removing one of the conflict-of-interest counts but decided not to because Hayes failed to show up or send a representative to respond to the accusations.
Hayes and her attorneys, Whitney Boise and Josh Ewing, had not responded to a request for comment as of Friday afternoon.
Hayes and Kitzhaber have been under an ethics investigation since July.
They had been under a federal criminal investigation for more than two years before that, after Willamette Week reported the first lady may have used her position to win several consulting contracts. The scandal eventually prompted Kitzhaber to resign from office in February 2015 and led to former Secretary of State Kate Brown's succession as governor. Federal prosecutors ultimately filed no charges against the couple. By the time the federal investigation had concluded, the statute of limitation had run out for any state charges.
In November, the ethics commission rejected a proposed settlement with Kitzhaber in which he agreed to pay $1,000 for ethics violations related to conflicts of interest and accepting gifts with value of more than $50 from any one source during the year. A majority of commissioners said they felt the settlement was too lenient.
The ethics commission is scheduled to reconsider his case next month.
Chairwoman Alison Kean said the report on Hayes's violations also is evidence against Kitzhaber and should be considered when determining penalties for Kitzhaber.
"He was the vehicle by which she was able to profit, so I view these cases as interlinked," Kean said.
"My recommendation would be to staff as we are negotiating … that the governor be treated with a much higher standard."