How to file a complaint
|What should I do if I suspect a public official of a Oregon Government Ethic law violation? |
Complete a complaint form found under "Forms and Publications" on our home page or write to the OGEC outlining the violation and providing as much detail as possible. Complaint form
When possible, provide documentation. For example, if the allegation is failure to declare a potential conflict of interest, include meeting minutes that record the discussion preceding the vote in question.
If the OGEC receives no specific information, staff will request the person submitting the complaint to provide more information before action can be taken.
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 OGEC’s jurisdiction. If the complaint is not within the commission’s jurisdiction, the executive director sends the complainant a letter to advise that the commission cannot take action.
If the matter does appear to be within the commission’s jurisdiction, the director notifies the public official named in the complaint.
About 90 percent of the cases reviewed by the commission are initiated as a result of written complaints. The balance of cases are initiated by the commission at regular commission meetings as the result of information obtained from other sources, such as government agencies or media coverage.
Preliminary Review Phase. When deciding to pursue an issue, the commission opens a case file and initiates a preliminary review. A decision to conduct a preliminary review means that the violation appears to be within the commission’s jurisdiction.
The preliminary review phase must be completed within 135 days of the filing of the complaint or initiation of action on the part of 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 the preliminary review confidentially. The OGEC will make no public disclosure or comment related to this matter other than to acknowledge that a complaint is pending if an inquiry is made. The confidentiality requirement applies only to OGEC personnel. The ability of any other persons to publicly comment about this matter is not affected.
A staff report will be prepared at the conclusion of the preliminary review and will be considered by the OGEC in executive session. If a finding of cause is not made, that matter will be dismissed. If cause is found, an investigation will be conducted. In either instance, all information concerning this matter will then become available to the public.
Investigative Phase. If the commission finds "cause" to pursue the case, the investigative phase begins. The commission has 180 days to investigate the issues, during which time it may issue subpoenas to obtain documents and oral testimony.
A staff report will be prepared at the conclusion of the investigatory phase and will be considered by the OGEC. The commission may:
- Dismiss the case
- Continue the investigation for no more than 30 days
- Move to a contested case proceeding
- Seek a negotiated settlement or
- Take other appropriate action if justified.
If the commission decides a contested case hearing is in order, the public official may elect to move the process into the Marion County Circuit Court.
Contested Case Hearing. When the commission moves a case to a contested case hearing, the commissioners make a preliminary finding of violation because they believe they have received substantial evidence that a violation has occurred.
A contested hearing is much less formal than a court proceeding. The assistant attorney general assigned to the OGEC presents evidence to the hearings officer on behalf of the commission. The public official or the public official’s attorney makes a presentation responding to the OGEC’s case. Both parties then make concluding statements.
The hearings officer then reviews the evidence submitted at the hearing and prepares a written document that includes conclusions of law, findings of fact and a proposed final order.
The OGEC may accept, change or reject the hearings officer’s 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 a 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. People who are subject to inquiries or investigations are encouraged to talk with OGEC staff at any point during the process. Unlike a criminal or civil suit where all 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. Furthermore, you may ask about, and will receive, information on the status of the investigation at all times.
May I resolve my case without a hearing?
Yes. The OGEC encourages settlement of a case at any stage of the proceedings. About 99 percent of cases that are not dismissed prior to the contested case hearing phase are resolved by an agreement between the public official and the OGEC. The result is a "stipulated final order."
The Stipulated Final Order contains facts agreed to by the official and the OGEC. It may also contain statements of fact by one side that the other side does not agree to.
A stipulated final order also contains terms of settlement. The settlement may require payment of a penalty as part of the final 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 ORS 244. However, each violation of ORS 244.045 (the "revolving door" sections) may invoke a penalty up to $25,000.
In addition, if the commission finds that an official has obtained personal financial gain by violating any section of ORS 244, the commissioners 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.
Failure to file a statement of economic interest carries separate penalties. See ORS 244.050 for details.
Is information about a 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 the preliminary review, regardless of the determination, the commission must make all information available to the public. For the duration of the process, all information collected by or produced by OGEC staff is a matter of public record.