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Ethics law could stall Buckley's hiring

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown made a noteworthy hire this week, turning to former longtime state Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, to help her work on Oregon’s long-term state budget.

Buckley, a key budget crafter in the Legislature for the past seven years, has accepted a position as Brown’s senior adviser on transformation and budget stability, focusing on state government cost curbs and potential tax reform. It’s a 20-hour-a-week role with an annual salary of about $65,000.

But the work Buckley can do on the governor’s behalf in the Legislature during the next few months could be greatly hamstrung by a 2007 ethics law that Brown chiefly sponsored.

That law created a mandatory waiting period before recently retired legislators can become lobbyists in the Capitol — an attempt to address what then was perceived as a “revolving door” between the Legislature and the lobby.

Buckley, along with all other Democrats, voted in favor of the change, part of a package that Brown at the time called “the most comprehensive update to Oregon’s ethics laws since the Watergate era.”

Brown spokesman Chris Pair said Thursday that the governor’s office doesn’t believe the lobbying waiting period would apply to Buckley, who left office in January. Buckley could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

He pointed to a 2009 Oregon Government Ethics Commission advisory opinion that ruled that the waiting period didn’t apply to three former lawmakers, who immediately were elected to statewide office at the end of their terms. Those elected officials could lobby on behalf of their state agencies, the commission said.

“We feel like we’re on solid ground,” Pair said.

He acknowledged that the governor’s office hadn’t run the specifics of the Buckley situation past the commission.

But Dexter Johnson, the Legislature’s lead attorney, wrote in an opinion this week that the lobbying waiting period should, in fact, apply to Buckley. The opinion, obtained by The Register-Guard, was requested by a state lawmaker.

The general practice in the governor’s office is that all advisers register as lobbyists with the ethics commission because of their frequent interactions with lawmakers during the session.

If the lobbying waiting period does apply to Buckley, he would be prohibited from lobbying any former colleagues until the end of the session. That ban would cover any attempt by Buckley to influence a legislator on any issue in a conversation or in writing.

Additionally, the law would prohibit Buckley from “soliciting” either Brown herself or anyone in her office or in the executive branch to attempt to influence legislators.

Combined, the twin prohibitions essentially would mean that Buckley couldn’t attempt to influence the Legislature’s 2017-19 budget process in the next few months in any way, even though that’s his area of expertise.

In his opinion, Johnson, the Legislature’s attorney, wrote that he believed both of the lobbying prohibitions would apply to Buckley for this session.

“But for those limitations, Mr. Buckley may generally perform all other activities in undertaking a senior staff position with Gov. Brown’s office,” Johnson wrote.

Pair, however, said that if the lobbying ban were found to apply to Buckley, “it would affect his work” for Brown.