Gov. Kitzhaber Used A Private Email Account To Push Green Policies

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Emails obtained by The Oregonian newspaper show that former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber actively pushed his fiance’s role in implemented state environmental policies, despite her financial ties to green advocacy groups.

But these emails also revealed one more troubling detail: Kitzhaber and his staff were using private email accounts to communicate the role Cylvia Hayes, the Democratic governor’s fiance, would play in pushing state green policies. Hayes would be pushing such policies while taking money from green advocacy groups.

The Oregonian reported last week that the email release “underscores how the Kitzhaber administration operated through back channels that couldn’t be traced through government records.”

The newspaper noted that “Kitzhaber himself relied on a personal email account to conduct government business – emails his attorneys are now fighting to keep from the public and investigators.” The governor’s chief of staff Curtis Robinhold was also using a personal email address to discuss how Hayes would push for green policies in the state.

The emails contained a 2011 memo from Kitzhaber’s office addressing how Hayes would fit into the administration’s agenda. In the memo, Kitzhaber himself strongly pushes for her to be involved in pushing for environmental policies that mirrored those of a group that was paying her.

“Cylvia needs to be advocating the same clean economy policy in her role as spokesperson/advocate for the Governor’s Office and her role as a Clean Economy fellow. There cannot be any daylight between them,” Kitzhaber noted in the 2011 memo. “This is another reason why she needs a role in developing the (state) policy itself.”

Hayes had been a fellow at the Clean Economy Development Center, an advocacy group pushing for green energy and other anti-fossil fuel policies. Hayes got $118,000 from the group during her two years as a fellow in 2011 and 2012. When Hayes’ fellowship ended, she signed a $40,000 contract with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation in May 2013.

In 2014, the Energy Foundation gave the Clean Economy Development Center a $97,500 grant to conduct “polling, messaging research, media outreach and organizing a coalition of supporters for an Oregon low-carbon fuel standard,” the Portland Tribune reported.

When Gov. Kitzhaber began his third term as governor in 2011, he gave Hayes a prominent role as a government policy advisor, even designating her as Oregon’s “first lady” — all while she operated her own renewable energy consulting firm and was taking money from advocacy groups.

Legal experts told the Oregonian these emails could increase the chances federal investigators to opt to indict Kitzhaber for his conduct.

Ben Gaskins, a professor of political science at Lewis & Clark College, told The Oregonian “the email shows Kitzhaber not only tacitly endorsed Hayes’ work in his office, but also required it. He is directing that this connection continue and be the official stance of his administration.”

“We were really in uncharted waters in 2011, and staff was working with the governor to clarify the role of the first lady,” Robinhold told The Oregonian. “We worked hard to address and avoid potential conflicts as we understood them.”

Kitzhaber resigned earlier this year after years of vehemently denying any conflict of interest between his fiance’s consulting work and her policy work in the Governor’s office. He’s currently being investigated by the FBI and IRS.

Current Gov. Kate Brown has “ordered staffers not to use personal email accounts for public business and to immediately turn in any state-related messages received on private accounts. Her office currently is reviewing thousands of Kitzhaber’s private emails for release,” according to the Oregonian.

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