Ethics panel weighs Richardson trip charges

SALEM — The state's ethics watchdog panel will decide Friday whether to pursue charges against Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, for six alleged violations of expenditure reporting laws.

At issue are expenses paid on his behalf while attending six national conferences, beginning in 2003. Richardson did not report them to the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission until recently when he filed amended statements, which led the ethics panel to launch an investigation. He did list expenses for two events on his campaign expenditure report.

Richardson said he acted after becoming concerned over the attention drawn to legislators who failed to report attending a Hawaii conference sponsored by Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors.

Among them was Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point. Atkinson and four other lawmakers and former legislators wound up paying fines.

Also drawing media exposure was a trip by four legislators to view dams on the Snake River, paid for by Idaho Power Co., that the legislators did not report on disclosure forms.

Richardson said he decided to file the amended reports, even though he received no benefit from any lobbyist or organization with an interest in bills before the Oregon Legislature.

The filings were made "in an abundance of caution," he wrote in a newsletter to constituents.

A report to the commission by investigator Don Crabtree said 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 listed them on his campaign finance reports.

Ronald A. Bersin, executive director of OGSPC, said the commission will take one of two actions. It could decide there is no violation and dismiss the matter, or it could conclude there is "an appearance of a violation" and order a contested case hearing.

Richardson said he did not plan to attend Friday's hearing.

Among the events attended by the Republican lawmaker were a policy summit in Phoenix sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (a state legislator group that advocates conservative issues), $1,000 stipend; an Oregon Business Plan Leadership summit in Portland with the Portland Business Alliance picking up the $266 hotel tab; and the Pacific Conference meeting in Hawaii, where Richardson received $1,365 for food, travel and lodging. The conference bills itself as an educational organization.

The other meetings were sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislators of which Oregon is a member.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem.

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