(CN) – A state ethics commission formally charged former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber with 10 counts of using his state contacts to benefit his fiancee’s consulting firm.
Kitzhaber accepted responsibility for much of what he was charged with, but continues to dispute the allegation that he used his office for financial gain.
Shortly after starting his fourth term, Kitzhaber stepped down in February 2015 amid claims he and first fady Cylvia Hayes used state contacts to benefit Hayes’ consulting firm 3E Strategies.
Earlier this week, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission released the results of an investigation concluding that Kitzhaber had likely violated conflict of interest laws.
He also violated a law that prohibits using public office for private gain, and a law limiting the amount one can spend on gifts for public officials, the commission found.
The investigation also concluded the governor used his staff to arrange his personal travel and had assistants take care of his pets, a claim Kitzhaber called “petgate.”
The ethics commission rejected a proposed settlement with Kitzhaber this past November in a 7-1 vote.
Kitzhaber’s proposal included a $1,000 fine for his failure to disclose conflicts of interest, which the commission said was too little for a state’s governor.
The allegations against Kitzhaber and Hayes came to light after former state technology manager Michael Rodgers leaked emails from the governor’s Gmail account to local news organization Willamette Week.
Kitzhaber has consistently maintained he resigned due to the “media frenzy” and not for any wrongdoing.
Hayes was CEO of the consulting firm 3EStrategies, which focused on clean energy and green jobs. The ethics commission determined last month that Hayes committed 22 ethics violations.
Amid investigations by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Justice Department, Kitzhaber and Hayes also vigorously fought against the release of their emails.
Hayes sued The Oregonian newspaper over its public records request for emails. Kitzhaber challenged a federal grand jury’s demand for all emails from his time in office as overly broad.
A Ninth Circuit panel in 2016 agreed to quash that subpoena.
The ethics commission met Friday to consider the findings, and unanimously voted to charge Kitzhaber with 10 of 11 charges.
The former governor spoke along with his two attorneys. He told the commission he was concerned about the “assault on [his] integrity.”
“That means more to me than you will ever know,” he said.
While Kitzhaber accepted responsibility for many of the charges and said he wished to be held accountable, he denied he purposefully tried to make money from his role as governor.
“I’ve made my share of mistakes, no doubt about it,” he said. “But using my office for personal gain is simply not one of them.”
The commission agreed to dismiss the “petgate” charge due to the staffer’s relationship with the former governor.
Kitzhaber could be fined up to $50,000 for the violations. He can request a hearing to contest the findings before an administrative law judge or appeal to a state hearings officer.