Oregon Ethics Commission: Legislative leaders cannot use family members for political caucuses, according to a Friday ethics watchdog report from Oregon; but, politicians are still permitted to employ their wives and minor children as personal assistants.
Oregon Ethics Commission Opposes the Appointment of Knopp Son
The Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp’s attempt to appoint his son Reagan as the Senate GOP chief of staff this summer is the basis of the nine-page ruling issued by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission; it does not mention any specific members. Reagan Knopp would have represented the whole Senate Republican caucus in that capacity, not simply his father.
Both partisan lawmakers have frequently used their spouses or children as their helpers, claiming that they need somebody they can trust. Legislative staff may earn more than lawmakers, whose base pay is around $33,000 per year.
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Following an ethical crisis in which lobbyists for the beverage industry paid for politicians to fly to Hawaii, the Legislature approved a series of ethics reform measures in 2007. One of these regulations forbade public officials from taking part in hiring decisions involving their relatives. However, they did provide one exception: Members of a legislator’s family might work for them as their “personal legislative staff.”
According to Willamette Week, legislative counsel ruled in July that Knopp could “likely” hire his son. They claimed they qualified as “personal legislative staff” of the House Speaker, Senate President, and minority leaders since they have sole power over caucus staffers’ hiring, supervision, and termination. Dan Gilbert, a senior deputy legislative counsel, said that the seat Knopp wanted for his son was filled by the daughter-in-law of a former Senate minority leader.
Legislative counsel Dexter Johnson requested the government ethics commission’s opinion on October 7, nearly four months to the day after his office informed Knopp that he could hire his son. The panel, which is made up of a chair and two members are chosen by each of the four legislative factions, disagreed with the legislative lawyers’ assessment.
The problem with that approach, according to the commission’s written conclusion, is that it “appears to expand the word of ‘personal’ beyond its obvious, natural, and common meaning.”
The exception for “personal” staff, according to Jonathan Thompson, a commissioner who assisted in drafting the 2007 laws while serving as the legislative director for the Senate GOP, was likely implemented to preserve the practice of hiring family members as assistants while preventing the presiding officer of the House or Senate from placing them in high-paying positions.
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The plan was for a senator from Pendleton to visit with his wife and employ her to work in his office because she needed a job, Thompson claimed. “This clearly muddies the water since that’s what this exception was intended for.”
Many people don’t understand how the Legislature operates, according to Commissioner Dan Mason, a Portland-area apartment manager selected by the House Republican Caucus. Mason said that the ethics commission could shed further light.
“They instantly leap to assumptions that make the government appear worse than it already is in the eyes of the ordinary public when they see a news report and see how politicians are employing a relative, think ‘Why isn’t that wrong?’,” Mason said.
Commissioner Shenoa Payne, a lawyer chosen by the House Democratic caucus, stated that commissioners should take into account public opinion and that it wouldn’t be popular for lawmakers to employ their relatives.
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A bill forbidding politicians from employing relatives was on the House Rules Committee’s list of proposals it intended to introduce in the 2023 session at one time last week. The committee decided not to move further with that idea, but MPs may still try to repeal the nepotism provision in the legislation when the next legislative session convenes on January 17.
Reagan Knopp informed the Capital Chronicle through text message that he is currently serving as the district head of staff for Knopp and was never employed by the caucus.
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