The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has launched its own investigation into former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s spending of taxpayer and campaign dollars on hotels, plane tickets and rental cars for trips with her children, aunt, sister, romantic partner and dog.
The commission voted 7-0 on Friday to delve into whether Fagan used her public office for her personal gain or the personal gain of a relative or household member. An Oregonian/OregonLive investigation in June found tens of thousands of dollars in questionable spending – and possible double-dipping – by Fagan during the nearly two and a half years she was the state’s second-in-command, from January 2021 until her resignation in May 2023.
That state spending ranged from as little as $15 for pet fees at Oregon hotels to hundreds of dollars for rental cars. It also included extensive spending from her campaign funds for a $177 meal at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.; $1,300 in lodging for a family weekend in Sunriver; and $3,300 in airfare to an unnamed destination. In some cases it appears that Fagan may have been reimbursed by the state for meals or plane tickets while also reimbursing herself from campaign funds. That would be a violation of state rules.
Fagan’s lawyer, David Elkanich, declined this spring to share specifics that might alleviate those concerns and did not immediately respond to a request for comment this week.
After the news organization published its June story that included criticism from former state Rep. Julie Parrish, Parrish filed a complaint that on Friday prompted the commission’s decision to investigate. The Oregon Capital Chronicle first reported on the commission’s vote.
Investigator Susan Myers told commissioners that the secretary of state’s office sent the commission more than 500 pages of documentation into Fagan’s spending and reimbursements. Myers said investigators need more time to analyze whether Fagan violated any ethics rules.
That specifically includes whether Fagan took side trips to scenic sites like the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Northern California, which appears unrelated to her official duties. The deeper query also will look into whether Fagan improperly rented larger rental cars using state money in order to accommodate her family and dog on business trips in Oregon – prompting a staffer to rent a second rental car because there was no room for the staffer in Fagan’s packed car. A formal investigation could take up to six months.
Myers noted that the commission doesn’t have the power to oversee Fagan’s spending of campaign funds. But if Fagan used state money and campaign donations to pay for the same expenses, that could be a breach of ethics rules, Myers said.
Fagan’s lawyer, Elkanich, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. But in a letter to the commission this month he said his client “was careful to comply with all regulations and policies regarding expenditures reimbursed by the State or her Political Action Committee.” He also pointed to a decision not to investigate Fagan’s travel after she self-reported some potential concerns to the commission last year.
This is the second investigation the commission is conducting into Fagan. The first, which began in July, is exploring whether Fagan violated ethics rules by securing a $10,000-a-month side job with a marijuana company. She’d said her $77,000-a-year state job made it difficult “to make ends meet” as a divorced mother of two. Federal officials also appear to be investigating Fagan’s ties to the pot company.
Early this year, Fagan applied to have her law license reinstated by the Oregon State Bar, in a move that would allow her to once again practice as a lawyer. But that application is still pending.
— Aimee Green; firstname.lastname@example.org
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