Our Clackamas County clerk’s miscues and mistakes are almost legendary. From the worker caught altering ballots, the clerk’s refusal to sign any marriage certificate so that she doesn’t have to sign same sex ones, public money wasted on signature verification equipment, the list is long. (See A ballot-tampering probe highlights a history of problems under the Clackamas County Clerk. )
As bad as these and the rest are, they are not as serious as being found guilty of violating election law.
After all, the county clerk’s job is to supervise county elections and make sure every election is fair. To be found guilty of violating the public trust in terms of an election should be tantamount to disqualifying that official for public office.
According to a public record request conducted by Clackamas Democrats, the clerk was caught using her staff to do campaign work for her election.
Ordering a public employee to violate the state version of the Hatch Act (which expressly prohibits public employees from engaging in political activity on company time) not only endangered the public employee but also puts the employee in a situation where to avoid violating the law they must not follow an order from their boss which is, of course, grounds for discharge. Thus the jeopardy is huge.
Yet this is precisely what the county clerk did.
On September 26, 2014 on the county email, the clerk sent an assignment to the county employee on her staff, Steve Kindred, to respond to questions from The Oregonian for the purpose of a candidate information article. The questions were addressed to the clerk as a candidate, not as a public official.
The clerk then sent Kindred’s work to the newspaper and, in turn, used substantial portions of this employee’s work for the clerk’s official Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet submission in the 2014 election.
At no time did Kindred appear to know what he was doing for the incumbent was illegal campaign activity. This is sort of like using a quote in the paper (after you provided the quote) but making it appear as if it were a statement of the paper instead of from the candidate. Lawyers have been known to call this “misrepresentation.”
On June 23, 2015, the Secretary of State’s Election and Investigation Officer communicated to the county clerk that she had violated ORS 260.431(1) and a $100 fine was levied. The fine was paid and the case closed.
There is no criminal penalty for plagiarism. There is no way to tell if the illegally procured work subsequently used in the Voters Guide had a significant impact on the election. To the clerk’s credit, the clerk did initiate the case by contacting the Secretary of State’s office.
Unfortunately, there is emerging evidence that the clerk was under some pressure to do so since the employee who wrote the information, upon seeing the Voters Guide, apparently recognized their own work.
If a county commissioner had done the same thing it would be just as illegal. But county commissioners are not elected to conduct county elections. County commissioners are not in charge of enforcing election laws and maintaining the integrity of our democracy. The county clerk is.