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By Jim Kouri
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
March 20, 2008

Imagine you're denied an opportunity to serve your community as an elected official because your mother-in-law is a degenerate gambler who owes thousands of dollars to mobsters; or your uncle is a member of the National Rifle Association. In the state of Oregon, that just may be the case after the State Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation that created a new state ethics law.

Oregon lawmakers -- mostly Democrats -- passed SB 10, a bill that is supposed to stymie political corruption and the influence by lobbyists.

A part of the law, which is supposed to weed out corruption, is officeholders are required to provide names and other information regarding their relatives -- including parents and siblings -- and those of their spouses. The rationale is to detect anyone who might be a corruptive influence or who may be a conduit for lobbyists to funnel illegal contributions to political officeholders.

Ironically, according to political observers in Oregon, lobbyists are allowed to continue giving unlimited sums of money and gifts to politicians, but private citizens and officeholders in the state would be considered lawbreakers.

After the Legislature passed Senate Bill 10 last June, House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D-Portland) said: “When our constituents see us receive exotic vacations and expensive dinners, they wonder if their interests are really being served here. They wonder if their voice is as important as someone giving a lavish gift. Today, we’re putting an end to that.”

Merkley is eyeing the US Senate seat now held by Republican Gordon Smith.

"Merkley is the primary "driver" for SB 10 and believes such lawmaking will win him a majority of votes come election day. He's made no secret of wanting to go to Washington, DC," said Oregon State Representative Ron Maurer in a telephone interview with

"I wouldn't put it past Merkley to have ulterior motives in pushing this law," stated Rep. Maurer.

Lorraine Tillman an Oregon resident stated that "this bill [SB10] will create a new needless bureaucracy that will cost the state taxpayers millions of dollars in paperwork alone at a time when motor fuel is at $3.60 per gallon, cost of food is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, and the counties throughout the state are strapped for money, and schools are laying off teachers."

A number of lawyers and political-ethics experts claim that the law could criminalize innocent behavior and needlessly complicate the lives of more than 170,000 who fit the classification of "public official."

Senate Bill 10’s critics state that the new law does little -- if anything -- to fix the root cause of political corruption and illegal or unethical influence.

SB 10 is the liberals' response to questionable activities such as lobbyist-paid vacations and other "gifts" from aggressive lobbyists. For example, this ethics law bans “entertainment” of public officials by anyone who might have a “legislative or administrative interest” unless the entertainment is incidental to another event.


Rep. Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) claims he supports ethics reforms, but he opposes the Democratic “majority report” to Senate Bill 10 that will limit free speech and burden locally elected officials and volunteers with assessments and paperwork in order to document their relatives' information such as work history, education, organization affiliations, etc.

“We need real ethics reform, not political posturing,” Rep. Hanna said in a press release. “The Legislature should have approved the Law Commission’s recommendations that would have respected our constitution and provided flexibility to our local elected officials and volunteers. Instead, we passed legislation that will immediately be challenged in court, and will nullify many of advances we’ve made on this important issue.”

Rep. Hanna said in his press release that "the Democratic legislation that passed the House will burden local officials and volunteers with excessive paperwork." He said the legislation will cause Oregonians from serving their communities.

“The Law Commission’s sound recommendations were disregarded,” Rep. Hanna said. “Democrats passed SB 10 without regard for the impact on our diverse, hard working local government partners. Elected officials are ultimately accountable to their constituents.”

But political strategist Mike Baker sees things a bit differently. He told that the driving force behind SB 10 is preventing honest people from challenging incumbents.

"Theoretically, proponents of this new law want to deter honest folks from seeking political office. You want to run for mayor? Well, you can't because your brother-in-law is serving six months for arguing with his wife under the domestic violence law or a radical environmentalist. Instead of having to dig up dirt on opponents, incumbents want their opponents to 'volunteer' the damaging information," claims Baker.

Some critics liken the law to the Nazi leader Adolph Hitler's program for officials to provide their genealogies so that those with Jewish ancestry could be identified.

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"This part of SB 10 is a violation of the Fifth Amendment regarding self-incrimination. In fact, most of this new law violates certain US Constitution Amendments," states Baker.

"Most of the Republicans who voted against SB 10 did so because of its unfair provisions and it's use of unethical activity to fight unethical activity. What's my brother's affiliations with radical groups have to do with my serving on a school board?"

"Oregon today, your state tomorrow" added Baker.

To voice your concerns, contact:

Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley
P.O. Box 29136,
Portland, OR 97296
(503) 274-4439

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But political strategist Mike Baker sees things a bit differently. He told that the driving force behind SB 10 is preventing honest people from challenging incumbents.