Media Room

Talking Points/Ethics and Public Records

As Prepared

April 2, 2015 

Oregon’s government belongs to its people.  An informed, engaged populace is essential to democracy.
 
The current state of affairs:

• Took office 43 days ago
• Three investigations underway of former Governor and First Lady
     o U.S. House Oversight Committee
     o Oregon DOJ (suspended at request of the feds)
     o Federal agencies (FBI & Treasury)
     o Responding to subpoena and other public records requests requires review of
        more than one million documents
• These circumstances brought to light the need for a good, hard look at Oregon’s
   ethics and public records law
     o I am committed to making meaningful progress this session on these issues

• Public Records issues, generally
     o My experience: agencies seek to be timely in responding to requests from the
        media and the public
     o Legal review prior to release is an important step
    -  There are 400 exemptions spread all over statutes – time consuming and not
           user-friendly
    -  Exemptions may require that documents be withheld or redacted
• This work is – and should be – done by state attorneys
     o  Otherwise, record is released
     o Not sure whether there is consistent, best practices across all state agencies.
    -  Need factual information about how state agencies process public records
           requests
 
• Proposed action:
     o Establish consistent and best practices across all state agencies:
     -  Legislation to require the State Auditor in the Secretary of State’s office to
            conduct an audit of all state agencies and their processes in responding to
            requests for public records. 
• Scope of audit:
     o Consistency of agency responses
     o Turnaround time
     o Staffing resources
     o Production costs
     o Compliance with and understanding of current laws
     o Exemptions, and other aspects of the public records laws
     o An audit will provide factual information about agency behavior that will inform
        policy-making going forward, such as  the AG’s task force on Public Records

•  Next: Strengthen ethics laws
     o Essential to rebuilding trust and re-establishing government credibility

•  Two bills:
     o Bill #1:
     - Defines First Spouse/Partner as public official
    -  Requires First Spouse/Partner to file SEI
    -  Clarifies that all advisors in Governor’s office must file SEIs
    -  Increases penalties for knowingly violating use-of-office provisions
    -  Clarifies that no fees for speaking or consulting allowed for statewide office
           holders or the First Spouse/Partner while in office
    o Bill #2:
    -  Bolsters the efficacy of the Oregon Ethics Commission
           • Requires the Commission to act swiftly to determine whether or not a
             complaint warrants an investigation (135 days to 30 days)
           • Removes the requirement that an administrative investigation of an ethics
             complaint must cease when a criminal investigation is initiated
           • Also need to look at altering the composition of the Commission. Instead of
             the Governor directly appointing three members, this legislation will require
             that other statewide office-holders appoint members to distribute power and
             not concentrate it all in the Governor’s Office

Oregonians have had cause to question their trust in state government.  In my view, the steps I propose will foster transparency and accountability, the best way to demonstrate our commitment to restoring credibility and trust.

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