Ethan Hampton

Oregon Ethics Law and You

The below is a draft of a talk on Oregon ethics laws I was going to give to incoming members of ASOSU so they were slightly more aware of how they played into state policies. This is not legal advice, I am not a lawyer and never intend to be one. Contact qualified legal council for legal advice (the Oregon Government Ethics Commission is a great resource).

I want to talk about ethics laws in Oregon and how they apply to members of the ASOSU Congress. I know that my knowledge in this area is still lacking, even after some investigation, given the complexity and nuance involved. Luckily, Oregon has the “Oregon Government Ethics Commission”, who is extremely helpful here. Hopefully they will be able to join us for a training at some point in the future.

The first thing to know is that as a member of ASOSU Congress, you are considered a public official! Additionally, the governing bodies of ASOSU are considered public bodies. This comes with some additional requirements that the body leaders have to pay attention to, such as public notification of meetings, but you don’t need to worry about that.

As a public official, you are bound by Oregon Ethics Laws. Before I get any future, I want to mention that ethics are a personal decision, that will occasionally get broader attention if other individuals believe an unethical decision has been made. The consequences for actions determined to be unethical is personal, there won’t be any consequences for the body as a whole.

Additionally, ethics violations can’t role back actions taken by the body. Even if a vote passes or fails because of a vote determined to be unethical, that vote must stand unless reversed by some other means.

I’ve included “Oregon Government Ethics Law: A Guide for Public Officials” which is an official document published by the State of Oregon (2021 PO Guide Final Adopted.pdf). Specifically, I want to draw attention to pages 11-16 which outline regulations regarding conflict of interest. I highly recommend you take the time to read that section and understand what ethical obligations we have as public officials. Additionally, Oregon law makes the distinction between “potential” and “actual” conflict of interest, which has some important implications.

The most important Oregon statute to be aware of regarding conflict of interest is ORS 244.120 (https://oregon.public.law/statutes/ors_244.120); subsection 2 applies to us (though we are members of a legislative assembly, we aren’t members of the Legislative Assembly in Oregon, which would be the House and Senate at the state level). I’ve reproduced it in a simplified form below for convenience:

An elected public official or an appointed public official, when met with a potential conflict of interest, shall announce publicly the nature of the potential conflict prior to taking any action thereon in the capacity of a public official; or

When met with an actual conflict of interest, shall announce publicly the nature of the actual conflict and refrain from participating as a public official in any discussion or debate on the issue out of which the actual conflict arises or from voting on the issue.

Ethics violations can be reported to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission as outlined in ORS 244.260 (https://oregon.public.law/statutes/ors_244.260). There are instances of state lawmakers being investigated for ethics violations (https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2022/05/oregon-senate-panel-rejects-ethics-complaint-filed-against-portland-lawmaker.html).

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