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AOC lacked policy for Breidenthal account

A public organization that set up a special bank account for Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal acknowledged Friday it failed to have a written policy before he started depositing funds and making withdrawals.

“AOC (Association of Oregon Counties) does not currently have a written policy regarding these campaign accounts,” Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the AOC, said in a response to a series of public record requests from the Mail Tribune. “I think it's safe to say that is most likely to change.”

Over the past 20 years, the AOC has set up only two similar accounts, both for commissioners vying for a higher office than the one Breidenthal was seeking. Breidenthal was the first one to receive a debit card, according to AOC officials.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is currently reviewing a 37-page complaint filed by Jackson County on Oct. 22 that asks for an inquiry into the possibility of “undue influence” because of $10,500 in contributions received by Breidenthal from groups that have contracts or seek decisions from the Board of Commissioners. A separate inquiry also has been initiated by the Oregon Department of Justice. 

Breidenthal set up a special account under the Association of Oregon Counties that was designed to help him get elected to a little-known group, Western Interstate Region, which is affiliated with the National Association of Counties. The Friends of Doug Breidenthal account is separate from an identically named account that Breidenthal used when he ran for commissioner in 2012.

The county recently discovered that Breidenthal’s WIR account had accumulated $10,500 in contributions in 2014, ranging from $500 to $2,000, from about a dozen groups, including the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and the Coquille Indian Tribe. On Sept. 21, 2015, Breidenthal received $2,000 from Murphy Lumber, bringing the total contributions to $12,500. The AOC account is not subject to the disclosure rules regarding political campaigns in Oregon.

Breidenthal has said repeatedly the account was used only for purposes of running for office with the WIR and potentially for a bid on the Association of Oregon Counties.

The county requires any gifts or contributions made to a county commissioner in excess of $50 be reported to avoid any question of undue influence. Breidenthal has said he is exempt from this reporting requirement because the contributions didn’t benefit him personally.

Breidenthal also has come under criticism for $73,000 in travel expenses over the past three years for trips to Hawaii, Alaska and other places for various conferences. He has missed more than 30 commissioner meetings so far this year.

The county is reviewing Breidenthal’s travel expenses to determine whether he received any duplicate reimbursements.

Breidenthal's run for the WIR board seat included a hospitality suite at the Hilton Hotel during the WIR's meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, that cost $3,441. The suite was for 30 people and included seafood platters and a bar tab of $1,000.

Many of the checks made into the Friends of Doug Breidenthal account, managed by the AOC, were written with Breidenthal’s Medford address rather than the AOC address listed on the Wells Fargo checking account. However, the checks were deposited into the AOC Friends of Doug Breidenthal account.

Breidenthal is the first commissioner in the past 20 years to have an AOC account for his bid to become first vice president of the Western Interstate Region.

In 2003, former Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Hansell raised $105,750 in an AOC account to run for the National Association of Counties as second vice president. He won and was later elected president.

In 2012, Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi raised $31,036 in an AOC account for second vice president on the AOC board. Josi lost his bid for that position.

Breidenthal began receiving donations for his WIR bid prior to the creation of the AOC account. Breidenthal was an authorized signer on the account.

The AOC instructed Breidenthal in a March 20, 2014, email to make sure checks written to the account used the AOC’s current mailing address.

On March 21, Kimi Wong, fiscal services manager for the AOC, told Breidenthal she would have the forms ready for him to sign to create the account.

Breidenthal responded by email later that day by stating, “Please use the Doug Breidenthal for WIR for the account name. Only a limited amount of checks would be necessary. What would be useful is a debit card for tracking and online purchases.”

However, Laura Cleland, spokeswoman for the AOC, said her organization was unclear about many of the debit card withdrawals.

Some check contributions were made to the AOC and others were donated directly to Breidenthal.

For instance, a $500 check from Murphy Lumber dated April 14, 2014, was written to Breidenthal at his home address. Another $500 check from Rogue Valley Properties was also written to Breidenthal at his home address.

Bovett, the AOC’s counsel, said, “It’s not uncommon for donors to write it (the check) to the candidate, as long as it gets deposited to the campaign account.”

Bovett said he hasn’t seen any evidence that funds were not being used properly. “But I have not looked at it from all the angles that other persons are looking at it,” he said.

In January, the AOC board likely will look at creating policies regarding campaign accounts, Bovett said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.