Watchdog.org: Oregon governor’s controversy puts green groups on the spot

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By Rob Nikolewski:

 

Green energy groups risk getting a black eye as the controversy involving Oregon’s governor and his fiancee intensifies.

These groups “like to get their policies quietly implemented,” said John A. Charles Jr., president and CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market research center based in Portland, Oregon. “They may still get their policies implemented, but it’s not going to be quietly, and it’s not going to be in the dark of night.”

John Kitzhaber, serving his fourth term as governor, is trying to weather the most serious crisis of a political career that goes back to the 1970s. A raft of questions surround the governor and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, who served as an unpaid clean-energy adviser in the Kitzhaber administration while getting jobs from green groups that paid per six-figure salaries.

The dual role of administration adviser and paid consultant raised issues of potential political backscratching on the part of two renewable energy organizations that hired Hayes — including one with financial ties to billionaire Tom Steyer, among the most prominent environmental activists in the country.

“Environmental organizations, the people that work there, they’re no better or worse than people who work at Peabody Energy or ExxonMobil or Noble Energy,” said Charles, who was executive director at the Oregon Environmental Council for nearly 20 years.

“They like to imagine, and with fawning media, have managed to present this image of themselves as having the moral high ground. Well, you can hardly be in a deeper moral swamp than that being created by our green governor and his green fiancee and the constellation of players who are all caught up in this mess right now. So I hope the people have their eyes wide open now.”

Among the most serious issues? At least two media reports claiming Hayes neglected to claim some $118,000 she received from one clean-energy consulting oufit.

Kitzhaber denies that Hayes, whom he has dated for more than a decade and has been engaged to for five months, improperly benefited from her connections to his administration.

“She’s an independent woman,” Kitzhaber, 68, said at a feisty news conference Jan. 30. “If Cylvia Hayes wants to talk to the press, she will get in touch with you.”

Hayes reportedly is out of the country. She previously has refused to comment on the controversy about whether her intimate relationship with Kitzhaber gave undue access and influence to the environmental groups that employed her

“It’s a welcome bit of sunlight on this topic,” Charles said.

The political pressure was turned up last week when Oregon’s attorney general — like Kitzhaber, a Democrat — described the allegations as “very serious — and troubling.” 

In the past four years, Hayes worked for at least two clean-energy groups.

MONEY TRAIL: Climate activist Tom Steyer has given millions to a renewable energy foundation that awarded a $40,000 contract to the fiancée of the governor of Oregon.

In 2013, she was hired by the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, which is connected to Steyer, who has invested millions in environmental and political causes.

According to Inside Philanthropy, the Energy Foundation “is a regular recipient of funding, winning more than $3 million in grants” from Steyer’s TomKat Charitable Trust, serving as “a pass-through funder for climate and energy issues, working on policies that promote clean energy, and innovative solutions for increasing efficiency and renewables.”

According to the Portland Tribune, the Energy Foundation gave Hayes a contract worth $40,000 to create a green-energy communications strategy.

The Energy Foundation also funded part of a fellowship Hayes had with the Clean Economy Development Center, a clean-energy group based in Washington, D.C., that appears to have strong Oregon connections, according to its website. Hayes appears to have been the only paid fellow at the center.

While working for the Clean Economy Development Center, Hayes was paid $118,000 in 2011 and 2012 to help establish a low-carbon fuel standard. In addition to not accounting for the money on Hayes’ tax forms, the income was not fully reported in Kitzhaber’s ethics filings, despite Hayes serving as unpaid energy adviser in the governor’s administration.

The CEDC lost its nonprofit status in 2014 for failing to file IRS returns for three consecutive years. The IRS action happened after Hayes’ fellowship had ended.

The CEDC website lists just one person under its “Team” heading, Executive Director Jeffrey King. Judging from King’s bio page, he has strong connections in Oregon. He served as a director of Pacific Crest Securities, an investment bank with an office in Portland, until 2009. During that time he “worked with Oregon State Representative Jules Bailey to develop a state-wide program to finance and scale retrofit and renewable energy projects in Oregon.”

A telephone call by Watchdog.org placed on Friday to the CEDC office went unanswered. An email to CEDC asking for comment on the Hayes-Kitzhaber situation did not receive a reply.

Watchdog.org sent a list of specific questions to the Energy Foundation.

Jenny Coyle, communications manager at the foundation, said the group finished its work with Hayes in December 2013, but answered the remaining questions with a general statement.

“Nonpartisan in our approach, we make grants to organizations and individuals who share our goal to raise awareness of the economic and social benefits of a clean energy economy,” Coyle said in the email. “An issue as important as our energy future requires perspectives from diverse voices in order to inform a constructive dialogue around how best to create good energy policy that serves the public interest.”

All told, it’s been reported Hayes has received $213,000 in various consulting fees since 2011.

The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, has called for Kitzhaber to resign, asking in its lead editorial last week, “Who knew following the trail of ‘clean energy’ money could make you feel so dirty?”

There also have been calls for a special prosecutor to look into the controversy, which includes speculation the jobs Hayes received from green groups required little or no work.

“If there’s no work product, and you’ve got a situation where you’re hiring the governor’s spouse or someone with a close personal relationship with the governor, then you can certainly have fraud,” Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, told the Portland Tribune.

The Energy Foundation did not respond to a question from Watchdog.org asking whether the group would describe Hayes’ work there as full or part time.

At his Jan. 30 news conference, Kitzhaber said Hayes will not have any policy role in his administration.

The controversy has metastasized just as the Oregon Legislature opened its 2015 session and may jeopardize some of the environmental initiatives that Kitzhaber, Hayes and the green groups who employed Hayes hoped to pass.

Last week, a low-carbon fuel standard bill that could lead to a 19-cents per gallon spike in gasoline made its way out of the state Senate, but another editorial in the Oregonian said the Kitzhaber-Hayes controversy has rendered the bill “tainted legislation” and urged voters to contact their lawmakers.

“At some point if it snowballs and there’s enough concern that out-of-state organizations have spent money and used this entree into the governor’s office and contaminated the policy process, that proposal — along with another proposal for a broad-based carbon tax — could die in the Legislature,” Charles said in a telephone interview.

“The fact is, there’s a lot of money to be made by environmental advocates, by funding sources like the people who work at the Energy Foundation. There’s a lot of money to be made by the private-sector companies who will benefit on the war on fossil fuels. So you’ve got some green crony-capitalism going on.”