Ex-commissioner Breidenthal fined $2,500 for ethics violations

Former Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal has agreed to settle claims of ethical violations by paying a $2,500 fine.

Former Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal has agreed to pay $2,500 to settle claims that he violated ethics laws by using his office for financial gain and to establish an interest in a cannabis business.

The agreement prevents further action by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, according to a final order issued Feb. 25. The commission will consider the order Thursday in Salem.

The Ethics Commission found Breidenthal used his position as county commissioner to solicit money for his campaign to secure a leadership position with the Western Interstate Region of the National Association of Counties.

“The sources from whom Doug Breidenthal solicited these monies were persons or entities which could reasonably be known to have a legislative or administration interest in matters before the Jackson County Board of Commissioners,” the order stated. Breidenthal was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a separate Oregon Department of Justice investigation into the matter in March 2017.

Jackson County Auditor Eric Spivak took issue with the manner in which the Ethics Commission resolved the two ethics complaints, one of which dated back to 2014. However, he said in fairness to the commission, it had to deal with an investigation into former Gov. John Kitzhaber and also with a high staff turnover in recent years.

“Nonetheless, I am concerned that accepting a $2,500 penalty for cases involving alleged gifts and payments totaling more than $55,000 sends the wrong message to public officials,” he said in an email response. “If the state is serious about holding our elected officials to high standards of ethical behavior, then perhaps we should consider increasing the Commission’s funding so that it can operate with more than just two investigators and not have to resort to accepting these agreements.”

Spivak said he was subjected to some complaints from the public that he’d acted in a political manner, so he welcomed the Ethics Commission conclusion that upheld the allegations he made in his complaints to the commission.

“I hope that anyone who read those allegations and lost faith in the Jackson County government has now had their faith restored by the investigator’s findings, which demonstrate that my actions were both warranted and appropriate,” he said.

Breidenthal, according to the order, disagreed with the Ethics Commission’s findings but agreed to pay the fine to avoid further investigation, which could have included civil penalties of up to $25,000 and a monetary forfeiture equal to twice the amount of financial gain he received.

The order found Breidenthal received 11 gifts ranging from $500 to $2,000 each for a total of $10,500. Breidenthal failed to disclose these gifts on his 2015 Statement of Economic Interest, the order said.

Breidenthal, according to the order, contends he wasn’t aware the money was defined as gifts. He said his actions were taken with the assistance of the Association of Oregon Counties, which helped set him up a bank account to make the deposits. The association has since changed its policies regarding special account.

Breidenthal made $93,309 a year as county commissioner in 2015.

According to the Ethics Commission, Breidenthal violated Oregon laws that prohibit public officials from using their official position or office to obtain financial gain or to solicit or receive gifts with a value in excess of $50 in a calendar year.

In 2016, Breidenthal entered into a recreational marijuana business arrangement while still in office. A video recorded at the business allegedly shows him accepting a pile of cash as payment to work as a marijuana consultant.

In at least three public meetings, according to the order, then-commissioner Breidenthal engaged in discussions about recreational marijuana businesses in the county.

“Doug Breidenthal did not disclose his potential conflict of interest prior to participating in these discussions,” the order stated.

“(He) contends that any actions he took in his official position as a County Commissioner occurred prior to his entry into the marijuana business and therefore there was no need for him to disclose a conflict of interest,” the order said.

In a previous Ethics Commission review from 2017, it described Breidenthal as allegedly obtaining $45,000 in cash payments from Greg Allen for marijuana consulting between August and December 2016. Breidenthal’s term as county commissioner ended in January 2017.

While Breidenthal disputes the allegations made by the Ethics Commission review, the commission contends that it had enough evidence to find he violated various Oregon Revised Statutes.

After his re-election bid failed, Breidenthal in 2017 opened a cannabis business, American Cannabis Co., on West Main Street in Medford.

While he was a Jackson County commissioner, Breidenthal warned that legalization of marijuana would open up a “Fort Knox for the criminals.”

According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, Breidenthal is listed as the manager of the cannabis store.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com Follow him on www.twitter.com.reporterdm.

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