For the Love of the Opaque

Senator Alan OlsenSALEM — 15 FEBRUARY 2016 — It seems so simple. If you propose an amendment to a measure, own it. But for some reason Oregon Senate Democrats prefer a more anonymous "knife in the back" approach to proposing changes. Five times since he was elected in 2010, Marion County Republican Sen. Alan Olsen (Dist. 20) has sponsored a bill to require that the name of the individual or committee sponsoring an amendment to a measure be affixed to the amendment.

Five times his bill has died in the Senate committee to which the Senate President assigned it. This session, with government transparency a hot issue once again, given the corruption scandal that forced Gov. Kitzhaber to resign in disgrace and an empty promise by his successor to make ethics in government a priority, Sen. Olsen decided to call the Democrats' bluff. He knew it would not be pretty, but he knew that now there could be no more dodging the consequences.

A Senate Republican caucus effort to bring two measures to the floor for a vote failed in straight party-line votes. Senate Joint Resolution 205 would have outlawed campaign kickbacks for elected officials who negotiate pay raises with public employees or other organizations that in turn reward the official with a campaign contribution. The most recent example of this kind of activity involved a contribution of $100,000 to Gov. Kate Brown's election campaign — the largest ever received by her — by AFSCME immediately following the implementation of a new contract that gave state employees a 5% pay increase.

Senate Democrats countered that Sen. Olsen's measure, Senate Bill 1560, was not necessary in light of the new Senate rule (see §12.03, pp. 24-25) making essentially the same provision. But the rule nullifies any positive impact of the rule by allowing a member or committee to elect "to omit from the proposed amendment the name of the requesting member or committee", replacing it with only the "name of the individual, organization, state agency or local government upon whose behalf the amendment was requested." This "loophole" has been used more than 40 times already this short session and we have not yet reached the half-way point!

Upon failure of the first motion to bring SJR 205 to the floor, Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli lamented, "Once again, Democrats fail to practice what they preach: while showering Oregonians with lofty rhetoric about cracking down on ethics failures in state government, they unanimously vote to reject making campaign contribution kickbacks illegal." When the second motion also predictably failed, Sen. Olsen mused, "For the fifth time, Senate Democrats decided they prefer anonymity over transparency. The public deserves to have full access to the bills and amendments their elected officials propose. This is another step backwards in our quest to restore transparency and accountability to the legislative body."

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