Richardson under investigation

SALEM — The Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission voted unanimously Friday to investigate six alleged violations of economic interest reporting laws by Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point.

Richardson failed to submit in a timely manner a stipend and expenses paid on his behalf beginning in 2003. The Central Point attorney, in effect, turned himself in by voluntarily submitting amended reports in "an abundance of caution."

Earlier this year there was intense media coverage of expense-paid trips legislators took to Hawaii in 2005 and an overnight visit to view Idaho Power Co. dams, with the trip paid by the utility. The failure to report the Hawaii trip as guests of the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors resulted in fines against five legislators, including Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point.

Atkinson wound up paying a $150 fine under a negotiated settlement. The heaviest penalty was assessed against beer lobbyist Paul Romain — $4,100 — who had advised lawmakers they did not need to report the gift.

The maximum penalty for each violation of reporting laws is $1,000.

Those violations prompted Richardson to file the amended campaign finance reports. Richardson said he had been told he did not need to file statements of economic interest unless they were being sponsored by individuals or organizations with an interest in issues before the Oregon Legislature.

The next move will be up to Richardson. He can seek a negotiated settlement, ask for a hearing before a state hearings officer or ask the commission to sue him in Marion County Circuit Court.

The majority of complaints are negotiated, as was the case with the five legislators, including Atkinson who traveled to Hawaii for the annual conference of the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors, which picked up the tab.

In a report to the commission, Don Crabtree, who investigated Richardson, concluded there was a "preponderance of evidence to indicate Richardson violated reporting laws by failing to file.

"While there were six events not timely filed," Crabtree said the commission may find that two of the violations are eased because Richardson had listed them on his campaign finance report.

Richardson said Friday after the meeting that he is "keeping my options open" on which route to go. He said he wanted first to confer with the director, Ronald A. Bersin.

Among the payments filed late was a $1,000 stipend for attending the States and Nation Policy Summit paid by the sponsor, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, and held in Phoenix, Ariz.; the Pacific Conference in Hawaii, ($1,365 for his expenses); and $266.64 for lodging for an Oregon Business Plan leadership summit in Portland.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem.

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