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How to file a complaint

What should I do if I suspect violation of Oregon Government Ethics, Executive Session, or Lobbying Regulation law?

 
You may file a complaint online by visiting our website and following the link found on the “Forms and Publications” page or the link on the “Search Advice and Outcomes” page. If you are unable to file a complaint online, you may write to the OGEC outlining the violation and providing as much detail as possible.
 
The OGEC does not accept anonymous complaints, so your complaint must be signed by typing your name into the signature box provided on the online form or by handwritten signature on if not using the online form. 
 
Please be specific.  Explain exactly what actions were taken, or exactly what occurred, that you believe violated the law. Because the initial review period is very short, the OGEC usually cannot expand it to include actions that were not initially listed in the complaint. As much as possible, provide dates (or a timeframe) during which the alleged violation occurred. The OGEC can only open a preliminary review if the complaint contains allegations of conduct that occurred within the last four years. When possible, also provide documentation. For example, if the allegation is failure to declare a conflict of interest, include meeting minutes that record the discussion preceding the vote in question. Due to the short initial review period, the OGEC may not have time to acquire records before the review period expires; the commission’s decision about whether or not there is a sufficient basis to move the complaint forward may be based in large part on the documentation you provide.
 
What happens when the OGEC receives a complaint?
 
When the OGEC staff receives a complaint, the executive director first reviews the complaint to determine if the alleged violation falls within the agency’s jurisdiction (Oregon Government Ethics, Lobbying Regulation, or Executive Session laws). 
 
If the complaint alleges a violation that is within the commission’s jurisdiction, staff will notify the person the complaint was filed against within two days and also provide them with copies of the complaint materials. If the complaint is not within the commission’s jurisdiction, the executive director sends the person who submitted the complaint a letter advising that the commission cannot take action on the matter.
 
About 90 percent of the cases reviewed by the commission are initiated as a result of complaints submitted by the public.  The balance of cases are initiated by the commission at regular public meetings as a result of information obtained from other sources, such as government agencies or media coverage.
 
Preliminary Review Phase. If an alleged violation appears to be within the OGEC’s jurisdiction, the commission will open a case and initiate a preliminary review.
 
The preliminary review phase must be completed within 30 days (135 for Lobbying) of the complaint being filed or the action being initiated by the commission. The objective of preliminary review is to determine if sufficient cause exists to conduct an investigation.  “Cause” is defined by statute as “... a substantial objective basis for believing that an offense or violation may have been committed and the person who is the subject of an inquiry may have committed the offense or violation.” 
 
The OGEC is required by law to conduct preliminary review confidentially.  If an inquiry is made, the OGEC will make no public disclosure or comment other than to acknowledge that a complaint was received.  This confidentiality requirement applies only to OGEC personnel.  The ability of any other persons to publicly comment about a matter is not affected. 
 
A staff report is prepared at the end of preliminary review and will be considered by the commission in its next executive session (meaning it will be considered in a closed meeting and will not appear on the public agenda). About one week before the meeting, OGEC staff sends a copy of the report to the person the complaint was filed against. (If you do not receive your copy of the report early on the week of the meeting, contact the investigator on the case.) The person the complaint was filed against (and their attorney) may attend the executive session.
 
If the commission does not find cause to investigate, the matter is dismissed. If cause is found, an investigation is conducted.  In either instance, all information concerning the matter will then become available to the public, and the person who filed the complaint will receive a copy of the report.
 
Investigative Phase.  If the commission finds "cause" to pursue the case at the end of preliminary review, the investigative phase begins.  The commission has 180 days to investigate, during which time subpoenas for documents and oral testimony may be issued.  
 
A staff report is prepared at the end of the investigatory phase and will be considered by the commission in a regular public meeting.  Both the person who complained and the person the complaint is against will be sent copies of the report about one week prior to the meeting. The commission may:
  • Dismiss the case,
  • Continue the investigation for no more than 30 days,
  • Find that Oregon Government Ethics, Lobbying Regulation, or Executive Session law was violated,
  • Seek a negotiated settlement, or
  • Take other appropriate action if justified.
If the commission finds a violation, the case will be moved to the contested case stage. If not, the case is dismissed.
 
Contested Case Hearing.  The commission may move a case to contested case hearing if it finds (by a preponderance of the evidence) that a violation occurred. OGEC staff provides the person the complaint was filed against with information on how to request a contested case hearing, and in most cases, OGEC staff also draft a proposed stipulated final order to settle the case. The person may choose to settle the case by signing the stipulated final order and complying with its terms, rather than proceed to a hearing. You may also elect to move the case to Marion County Circuit Court.
 
A contested case hearing is less formal than a court proceeding. The assistant attorney general assigned to the OGEC presents evidence to the administrative law judge on behalf of the commission.  The opposing party (or attorney) makes a presentation responding to the OGEC’s case.  Both sides then make closing statements. The administrative law judge reviews the evidence submitted at the hearing and prepares a proposed final order.
 
The OGEC may accept, change or reject the proposed order in making a final order.
 
Appeal.  A person wishing to appeal a final order may petition the Oregon Court of Appeals for judicial review.
 
If I am the subject of an OGEC inquiry, may I have an attorney represent me?
 
Yes.  An attorney can represent you at any time during the process.  Attorneys are not required.  However, the commission recommends that all persons obtain legal help if the case reaches the contested hearing stage.
 
Am I allowed to have contact with OGEC staff during a review or investigation?
 
Yes. Anyone with an open case is encouraged to communicate with OGEC staff at any point during the process. OGEC staff are always happy to explain processes and provide information whenever possible. Unlike criminal or civil suits where contact between opposing parties must be through attorneys, the OGEC process is considerably more flexible. 
 
You are encouraged to provide any information or evidence that will help the OGEC decide your case.  You may ask about and receive information on the status of the investigation at any time.
 
May I resolve my case without a hearing?
 
Yes.  The OGEC encourages settlement once a case moves to investigation.  About 99 percent of cases that are not dismissed prior to the contested case hearing phase are resolved by agreement with the OGEC (in a "stipulated final order").
 
The Stipulated Final Order generally contains agreed upon facts (but sometimes includes facts that one party does not agree to) and terms of the settlement. The settlement may require payment of a penalty as part of the order.  When payment of money is one of the terms of settlement, the amount is usually smaller than the amount that would be imposed after a contested case hearing for the same violation.
 
What penalties may the OGEC apply?
 
The commission may impose penalties of up to $5,000 for each violation of most sections of Oregon Government Ethics or Lobbying Regulations. However, a willful violation of ORS 244.040 may increase the penalty to $10,000; and each violation of ORS 244.045 (the "revolving door" section) may invoke a penalty up to $25,000.
 
Additionally, if the commission finds an official has obtained personal financial gain by violating any part of Oregon Government Ethics law, it may require the official to forfeit twice the amount gained.  Funds received by such forfeiture become part of the state general fund.  A forfeiture is not restitution.
 
The commission may impose penalties of up to $1,000 when ORS 192.660 (governing Executive Sessions) is violated. However, no civil penalty may be imposed if a violation of ORS 192.660 was a result of the public acting on the advice of the public body’s counsel.
 
Failure to file a statement of economic interest carries separate penalties.  See ORS 244.050 for details.
 
Is information about an OGEC case confidential?
 
During the preliminary review phase, the OGEC is required to maintain strict confidentiality.  The only information staff or a commissioner may provide the public or the media during this phase is an honest "yes" or "no" answer if asked whether or not the OGEC received a complaint naming a particular person.  The decision to move beyond the preliminary review phase is conducted in executive session.
 
At the end of preliminary review, regardless of the determination, the commission must make all information available to the public, subject to limited exceptions.  Once preliminary review has ended, all information collected by or produced by OGEC staff is a matter of public record.