Ethics Commission says Kitzhaber can give paid speeches

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Government Ethics Commission ruled Thursday that Gov. John Kitzhaber can accept fees for delivering health-policy speeches as long as he complies with a series of restrictions.

The commission unanimously adopted an advisory opinion saying Kitzhaber is allowed to earn outside income if he does it in his own time, doesn't use state resources and isn't getting the opportunity solely because of his position as governor. He also can't accept speaking fees from organizations with an interest in government decisions.

Adoption of the advisory opinion means Kitzhaber can't be prosecuted or sanctioned for ethics law violations if he complies with the limitations spelled out by the commission.

Kitzhaber spokesman Tim Raphael has said the governor routinely gets paid speaking offers but has not accepted any during his time in office. Kitzhaber's request for ethics guidance was not related to any specific speaking offer, Raphael has said.

Kitzhaber's speaking contracts would not be public records "because he would not be performing official duties as a public official," Raphael said. The governor would disclose any income he's required to report on his annual statement of economic interest, Raphael said.

State law requires Kitzhaber and other public officials to disclose each year all sources of income that exceed 10 percent of their total household income. They're also required to disclose any income of at least $1,000 if it comes from a person or organization with a business interest in the actions of state government.

Because he's agreed not to accept money from groups that, in his view, have an interest in state policy, Kitzhaber would only be required to publicly disclose the source of a speaking fee if it constitutes at least 10 percent of his total household income for the year.

As governor, Kitzhaber earns an annual salary of $93,600. His companion, Cylvia Hayes, also earns an undisclosed income as a clean-energy consultant.

In 2010, when he was running for governor, Kitzhaber reported 15 paid speaking engagements the prior year.

Kitzhaber is a former emergency room physician and state legislator, and he previously served as governor from 1995 to 2003. He's known nationally as a health-policy thinker and for his work on overhauling the Oregon Health Plan, the state Medicaid program, over two decades in public office.

He gave paid health-care speeches before running for a third term as governor in 2010. Commissioners said the fact that Kitzhaber was paid for speaking before entering office made it clear that speaking opportunities were not being offered solely because of his position as governor, but they said he shouldn't get paid a premium for being a sitting governor.

The commission's advisory opinion puts the burden on the governor "to ensure that the people who are hiring him are hiring him not because he's the governor of Oregon but because he's an expert in the subject matter they want him to speak on," said Ron Bersin, executive director of the ethics commission.

In a December letter seeking the commission's guidance, Liani Reeves, chief lawyer for the governor's office, said Kitzhaber would use a speaking bureau to coordinate his speaking activities and wouldn't use state money to travel to paid engagements.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.