The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Oregon governor dodges growing questions over first lady’s consulting work

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber escorts fiancee Cylvia Hayes onto the House floor before he is sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as governor in Salem, Ore. (Don Ryan/AP)

UPDATE, 3:55 P.M.

After Kitzhaber asked her for a “full and independent factual review” of the controversy, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum responded with a short, three-sentence letter, The Oregonian first reported.

“Thank you for your letter,” she writes. “My office has already opened an investigation into this matter. I appreciate your intent to cooperate fully.”

Oregon’s first lady directed state employees on the implementation of a new state policy while being paid by an outside group to advocate for that policy, according to e-mails released by a state agency that show Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) was also involved in the decision-making process.

The controversy over first lady Cylvia Hayes’s private work, for which she was paid $25,000 by a New York advocacy organization, has sparked a firestorm in Oregon. Kitzhaber has struggled to describe Hayes’s dual role as both one of his top public advisers and a private consultant with business before the state.

Last week, The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, called on Kitzhaber to resign.

The latest cache of e-mails, released Friday to The Oregonian and obtained by The Washington Post, show Hayes was involved in the development of an alternative economic measure, the Genuine Progress Indicator, at the same time she was being paid by Demos, the group that advocates for adoption of the indicator.

Those e-mails show Hayes scheduled a meeting with top officials in the governor’s administration and the Department of Administrative Services to discuss the Genuine Progress Indicator at Mahonia Hall, Oregon’s governor’s mansion, just three days after she sent her first invoice to Demos. Many of the e-mails from Hayes include her signature, which identifies her as Oregon’s first lady.

The e-mails also include correspondence from Kitzhaber himself, through a Gmail account, strategizing ways to develop a GPI  Web site and suggesting that the state hire a policy expert who helped implement the metric in Maryland. Another e-mail from Hayes to Department of Administrative Services chief operating officer Michael Jordan lays out a description of duties for which that employee would have been responsible, and additional tasks Hayes said she would provide herself.

Kitzhaber’s office did not immediately answer a request for comment.

The Genuine Progress Indicator is an alternative tool for measuring economic growth that encompasses environmental, social and other factors that aren’t counted in measures of the Gross Domestic Product. Vermont, Washington, Hawaii and Maryland are all in various stages of studying the GPI’s usefulness.

In a statement, Demos said Hayes had a long history of working on the GPI, even before she signed a contract with the group. The contract covered work she was to perform in states other than Oregon, an agreement reviewed and agreed to by Kitzhaber’s attorneys.

“Although we were assured that the contract was reviewed by Oregon counsel, we now know that we should not have trusted Ms. Hayes to carefully monitor the balance between her public and private roles,” Demos spokeswoman Elektra Gray said in an e-mail.

Hayes’s work for Demos is only the latest in a string of consulting jobs she has won thanks to connections through Kitzhaber, including an $118,000 contract with the Clean Economy Development Center, based in Washington, D.C., a group that advocates renewable energy programs. She was paid $25,000 for five months of work with Rural Development Initiatives, a nonprofit that promotes rural jobs. Hayes was introduced to both groups by people who worked for Kitzhaber.

Hayes and Kitzhaber are engaged to be married. They weathered another storm shortly before Kitzhaber won reelection to a  historic fourth term, when Hayes admitted she had accepted cash to marry an immigrant seeking to remain in the United States, and that she purchased land with a boyfriend with the intent of setting up an illegal marijuana-growing operation.

Other e-mails obtained by Willamette Week, an alternative newspaper, showed Hayes used state staff for personal and private business. Those e-mails showed Hayes asking her assistant, who is paid by taxpayers, to book hotel rooms and flights associated with her consulting business. Hayes routinely used Mahonia Hall for meetings with private clients.

Kitzhaber said last month that Hayes would no longer serve in a policy role in the final three years of his term. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is still looking into Kitzhaber’s administration’s efforts to maintain an ethical line between Hayes’s public and private roles.

Hayes has yet to answer questions about her work as both a public policy adviser and a private consultant. She is traveling in Europe, and Kitzhaber has deferred questions to her.

“If Cylvia Hayes wants to talk to the press, she will get in touch with you,” Kitzhaber told reporters last month.