Former Oregon governor cleared in influence-peddling case

Cylvia Hayes and former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. (Photo: KPTV/Portland)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber insisted he broke no laws, and federal prosecutors backed him up Friday, announcing that no criminal charges will be filed against Kitzhaber or his live-in fiancee over allegations she used their relationship to win contracts for her consulting business.

Kitzhaber surrendered to political pressure in February 2015 and resigned over allegations that Hayes used their relationship to win contracts for her green-energy consulting business and failed to report the income on her taxes.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Portland said in a brief statement that the criminal investigation that began more than two years ago is over and that no federal charges will be sought. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum previously announced the state would not bring charges.

“As I have said from the beginning, I did not resign because I was guilty of any wrongdoing but rather because the media frenzy around these questions kept me from being the effective leader I wanted and needed to be,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “Then there was the real investigation, not by reporters, but people with subpoena power and the ability to look at everything in context. They decided there was nothing to pursue.”

A series of newspaper reports beginning 2014 chronicled Hayes’ work for organizations with an interest in Oregon public policy. As she was being paid by advocacy groups, she played an active role in Kitzhaber’s administration, a potential conflict of interest.

Media outlets dug further, learning that Hayes accepted about $5,000 to illegally marry a man seeking immigration benefits in the 1990s. Hayes also confirmed a report that she bought land in a remote part of Washington state in 1997 to grow marijuana.

Despite the reports, Kitzhaber won re-election in November 2014 to an unprecedented fourth term as Oregon governor.

It turned into an unprecedented short term as the Hayes scandal dominated headlines for weeks. Secretary of State Kate Brown assumed Oregon’s highest office after Kitzhaber ended his four-decade political career in inglorious fashion and resigned just over a month into his fourth term.

Brown is still Oregon’s governor. Brown spokesmen Bryan Hockaday and Chris Pair did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

Kitzhaber met Hayes before the 2002 election, when he was governor and she was a candidate for the state Legislature. She lost her race, but they connected romantically after Kitzhaber’s term ended.

After eight years out of office, Kitzhaber became governor again in 2011. Hayes used the term “first lady,” even though the couple never married.

The former emergency room doctor remained quiet for months after leaving office, but slowly emerged with public appearances, Facebook posts and an attempt to do consulting work in his area of expertise — health care.

A Facebook post from March, marking his 70th birthday, shows his view of the 21st Century media landscape has not softened.

“Fully two years before the 2016 election normalized this phenomenon, I got to be a pioneer (or maybe that was a guinea pig) in this brave new world of politics with emails, social media, click for cash tabloid ‘journalism’ and fake news,” he wrote.

Hayes still has her consulting business. She also worked as a journalist and written a humorous book under a pen name. The book, “Surprising Reasons to Believe Donald Trump Will be a Great President,” is 150 pages and 149 of them are blank.

In his statement Friday, Kitzhaber said he’s “back.”

“I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing for most of my adult life: trying to help Oregon deal with the challenges we face in a way that moves us beyond the current division and polarization and brings us back together as a community.”