By Thomas Cribbins
Thomas Cribbins is a junior at the University of Michigan studying political science.
Public corruption stories are fascinating. With TV shows, movies and a general pop culture fixation right now, public corruption is popular. I dedicate a lot of time to studying and investigating corruption. By public corruption I generally refer to using public office for personal gain at the expense of the public welfare. In my research, I have come across countless statistics about how states compare in some facet of corruption, whether the ranking of their prevention of malfeasance or actual convictions of those caught. In poring over these reports, one state stood out: Oregon.
In the most recent report from the Center for Public Integrity in 2015, Oregon grades out with a score of 59 out of 100, good for 42nd among the 50 states. The only section of its report that offers a respectable grade is state budget processes, which scored an 84, good enough for a B and a rank of 13 out of 50.  But that is in no way consistent with public corruption crime statistics. From 2001-2010, Oregon had only 37 public corruption convictions, which is 1 for every 100,000 people in Oregon. That’s solidly in the lowest tier of corruption convictions. In fact, that’s the lowest conviction rate per capita and the 41st in total convictions.  That’s remarkable if it is truly representative of how much corruption there is in Oregon, because according to some statistics, it seems like corruption should be rampant in Oregon. According to others, corruption is barely noticeable. Recent attention turned to Oregon when its governor asked for his fiancee and himself to be investigated by the state ethics commission. However, there is still almost no criminal corruption activity. What is going on? It certainly can’t be both.
So, there are obvious questions that arise from these two seemingly contradictory pieces of data. At first, Oregon’s systematic approach to combatting corruption looks atrocious. And no one gets caught. Naturally, this leads us to think that it might just be too easy to get away with. Fortunately, Oregon has the Oregon Government Ethics Commission charged with investigating and punishing violations of Oregon’s ethics law for public officials. The commission has expansive investigative authority and can even dismiss a public official as a result of the investigation. Unfortunately, the commission is appointed by the governor on strictly partisan grounds. On July 1 two new members will join the commission. Historically, the 7-member board consisted of 4 members recommended to the governor and 3 members appointed unilaterally by the governor. Now, the governor unilaterally appoints 1 member and 8 are recommended, 2 each by both the Democratic and Republican party leaders in both houses of the legislature. For a commission responsible for probing and pestering public officials, they are quite beholden to keeping their most partisan officials happy. This is no doubt troubling, if not a conflict of interest. 
The Ethics Commission likely gives your mouth a bad taste. In their most recent self-evaluation from 2013, the general theme is: we’re trying to do better. Much of the report reiterates that they cannot either measure their own progress or cannot afford third-party evaluations. Also, some of their benchmarks for success seem like stray, misguided goals. For instance, their goal for resolutions of investigations is to settle 90% of cases.  It worries me that a regulatory board tries to not levy formal punishment against offenders. This is also ties back into the story with former Governor Kitzhaber. The state ethics commission denied his request to investigate his fiancee.  Simply shrugged his request off, mostly because they did not fully understand the rules they are charged with investigating. That is negligence. So it appears that the Ethics Commission even acknowledges it does not adequately fulfill its mission.
All signs look bad for Oregon expeditiously confronting corruption. In the name of eternal optimism, if we turn back to formal prosecutions, the picture looks even more troubling. We already know that Oregon has almost no convictions of corrupt politicians, especially per capita. But maybe, despite the lack of executive prodding of corruption, just maybe there is an understanding that state prosecutors focus on public integrity and hover over the issue enough to cover it, but, this does not appear to be the case. The Oregon Department of Justice currently shoves all cases of public corruption away under the Organized Crime section’s bailiwick, which makes sense since many corruption cases involve sifting and sorting through piles of papers primarily.  However, the Organized Crime section falls within the Criminal Justice division of the Justice Department which only has nine attorneys assigned to it. Nine. For all the crime in Oregon. 
Now, those nine attorneys obviously don’t prosecute all of the crimes within the whole state of Oregon, but that number is disturbingly low. The Attorney General’s office in any state usually gets called in to do the dirty jobs that no one else is willing to get elbow-deep in. Also, maybe more importantly, if the local prosecutor has a conflict of interest, state prosecutors handle the case.  The likelihood of a conflict of interest heightens in public corruption cases mostly because these cases are tried in either the same building or the one next door wherever the crime took place. Therefore, this seems like a problem that deserves more than half a sentence in the small paragraph that represents ⅓ of 9 attorneys. We certainly can’t expect heavy policing of an entire state with, at most, 9 people.
Whatever condition Oregon’s corruption problem is in troubles me. No quick, easy, or simple solution will solve this wicked problem, and that goes for every state’s efforts at combatting corruption, not just Oregon. While Oregon’s story may be a little more convoluted than most, it certainly is not the most blatant offender, even in the United States. Hopefully from this brief spotlight on Oregon, Oregonians and Americans across the country will more occasionally peek behind the curtain.
 "Oregon Gets F Grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation." Center for Public Integrity. 2015. Accessed June 05, 2016. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/11/09/18502/oregon-gets-f-grade-2015-state-integrity-investigation.
 "Public Corruption Convictions: State Totals, 2001-2010." Public Corruption Convictions: State Totals, 2001-2010. Accessed June 05, 2016. http://www.governing.com/gov-data/politics/public-corruption-case-convictions-state-data.html.
 "Oregon Chapter 244." Accessed June 05, 2016. https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/bills_laws/ors/ors244.html.
 "Oregon Department of Justice." Criminal Justice Division. Accessed June 05, 2016. http://www.doj.state.or.us/divisions/pages/criminal_justice_index.aspx.
 Oregonian/OregonLive, Les Zaitz | The. "Oregon Department of Justice Most Often Targets Local Officials in Public Corruption Cases." OregonLive.com. 2015. Accessed June 05, 2016. http://www.oregonlive.com/watchdog/index.ssf/2015/02/oregon_justice_department_most.html.
 "OREGON GOVERNMENT ETHICS COMMISSION Annual Performance Progress Report (APPR) for Fiscal Year (2013-2014)." Oregon Ethics Commission. 2014. Accessed June 5, 2016. OREGON GOVERNMENT ETHICS COMMISSION Annual Performance Progress Report (APPR) for Fiscal Year (2013-2014). https://www.oregon.gov/OGEC/docs/Miscellaneous%20Documents/APPR%202014.pdf\[ Oregonian/OregonLive, Laura Gunderson | The. "State Ethics Commission Denies John Kitzhaber Request to Review Cylvia Hayes Contracts, First Lady Role." OregonLive.com. 2014. Accessed June 05, 2016. http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/state_ethics_commission_denies.html.
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