Gov. Kate Brown is on track to spend more than $100,000 in taxpayer funds for one of her longtime advisers to serve as a part-time political consultant.
Under an arrangement dating back to early 2020, Brown hired her former communications director Chris Pair through a no-bid state contract at a rate of $6,500 a month to attend weekly meetings of the Western Governors Association on expanding electric vehicle infrastructure, the governor’s signature initiative during her time as chair of the group. So far the state has paid Pair $91,000 under the contract, according to the governor’s press secretary.
During the same time, Brown also paid Pair an undisclosed amount through her political action committee for work that she has declined to describe, beyond saying it was unrelated to state business.
Brown did not disclose that Pair might be hired back on the state’s dime as a consultant when a reporter asked about the longtime communications director’s departure at a Jan. 17, 2020 press conference. “We’re continuing to work together in other capacities,” the governor said of Pair. But she refused to say what that work was because she said the duties “don’t have to do with stateside at this point” and were paid for by her political action committee.
A month later, the governor’s staff asked state procurement officials to prepare a no-bid contract worth up to $150,000 for Pair’s consulting company, Althea, so that Pair could assist with Oregon’s share of work on the Western Governors’ Association electric vehicle recommendations, according to public records. The contract called for the state to pay Pair $78,000 a year, roughly half the $158,000 salary he previously earned as the governor’s communications director and senior adviser.
Brown declined to comment on why it was necessary and beneficial to taxpayers for her to hire her former staffer through a no-bid contract. Pair also did not respond to calls for comment.
Liz Merah, press secretary for the governor, wrote in an email that Brown had tasked Pair with developing her initiative for the Western Governors’ Association when he was still her communications director, so “when Chris chose to move on from the governor’s office in late 2019,” Brown asked Pair to complete the work.
Merah said Pair’s state-paid work for the governor has been strictly separated from any other political work he does for Brown. “All work performed by Althea LLC under this contract is related to the Western Governors’ Association,” Merah wrote.
It’s unclear how much Brown paid Pair through her political action committee during this time, because Oregon allows PACs to keep secret who they are paying and how much they pay those people, by simply reporting aggregate payroll costs. Although she is not running for office and hasn’t since 2018, the governor’s political action committee spent more than $172,000 on payroll in 2020 and $42,000 in the first five months of 2021, according to state campaign finance records. Brown’s PAC did detail one payment to Pair’s consulting business, Althea, $6,500 on June 3.
Thomas Wheatley, a political consultant who advises Brown and is also paid through her PAC, declined to answer a question about how much the campaign organization paid Pair or why the governor ultimately decided to use public resources — rather than her political funds — to pay for some of Pair’s work. “Chris’ work for the PAC is focused on staffing the governor for political events,” Wheatley wrote in an email.
It’s not unprecedented for Oregon’s executive branch to effectively circumvent competitive bidding to award a lucrative contract to a well-connected insider. In 2014, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that Oregon Health Authority officials announced the selection of the wife of a former top aide to then-Gov. John Kitzhaber for a $150,000 contract before any formal bidding took place.
In Pair’s case, the governor’s staff bypassed competitive bidding completely by using a “special procurement” process which is allowed for certain contracts up to $150,000. To make the case such a procurement was necessary, Brown’s administration cited Pair’s four years of experience working on the governor’s public relations team and his “in-depth knowledge of the governor’s priorities” on electric vehicle infrastructure that any other person might require 30 to 60 days of meetings with staffers and others to match.
“It is highly unlikely that any other vendor would be able to gain the required specialized capabilities, experience, and expertise in the time period required that would allow for successful completion of the needed tasks and deliverables,” the governor’s administration wrote.
In fact, Oregon already had state employees working on how to improve infrastructure for electric vehicles including at the state transportation department’s Climate Office. The transportation department just completed an analysis of Oregon’s electric vehicle infrastructure needs and it was incorporated in the Western Governors’ Association report compiled by the association, an agency spokesperson wrote in an email. Brown also has a state policy adviser specifically focused on energy, climate and transportation issues, Kristen Sheeran.
It’s not clear how much work Pair put in for the $6,500-a-month billed to taxpayers. Merah said Pair “submits monthly invoices with deliverables” to the state.
The governor’s calendar shows a couple of meetings with Pair over the last year, but Brown’s staff have for years redacted some items on her calendar as “personal political activity” that is unrelated to her role as governor, so it’s unclear if any of the redacted meetings were with Pair.
As for work product, Pair was one of many participants whose suggestions were ultimately compiled in a 19-page Western Governors’ Association electric vehicle “roadmap” report developed by 16 states, utilities, charging infrastructure companies and other entities. Brown’s name and photo are prominently featured in the report. Pair’s name is not mentioned.
— Hillary Borrud; firstname.lastname@example.org; @hborrud
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