SALEM — State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, maintains that he was not required to disclose consulting fees he received from Stryker Corporation, a medical device and technology company that is also a state contractor.
The Democratic Party of Oregon filed an ethics complaint Wednesday against Buehler, a rumored gubernatorial hopeful, alleging the orthopedic surgeon violated ethics rules when he did not disclose nearly $100,000 in payments from two companies, including Stryker, since 2013.
Legislators and candidates for the Legislature are required to file annual statements of economic interest.
DPO officials argue Stryker Corporation and Pfizer, Inc. have an interest in state government and could have legislative interests. The party contends Buehler received “substantial income and honoraria” from businesses that meet ethics reporting standards.
But in a written statement, Buehler called the allegations “false and politically motivated,” and that they represented an “abuse of the ethics process.”
Buehler’s chief of staff, Jordan Conger, contacted the Oregon Government Ethics Commission last week inquiring as to whether Buehler needed to report income from one of the companies, Stryker Corporation, on his annual statement of economic interest.
In that email to OGEC, Conger said Buehler owns a research and design company that has done consulting work for Stryker. According to Buehler’s 2016 statement of economic interest, he owns a company called Buehler Research and Design, which is based in Bend. That company is also listed as a source of income on his statement of economic interest.
Tammy Hedrick, a program analyst and trainer at the Government Ethics Commission, told Conger based on the stated facts, Buehler was not required to disclose the Stryker income in his annual statement because, per state statute, Stryker is not a business Buehler was “associated with.”
Stryker Corporation has supplied medical devices to Oregon prisons, and has had three price agreements and two one-time contracts with the state between 2010 and Dec. 30, 2016.
In a statement, Democratic Party officials cited payment data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which compiles payments that doctors and teaching hospitals report receiving from certain entities such as medical device manufacturers.
The online database maintained by CMS shows:
• In 2013, Buehler received $14,774.98 from Stryker Corporation for consulting, travel, food and lodging; and $1,080 from Stryker for associated research.
• In 2014, Buehler received $43,077.38 from Stryker Corporation for consulting, travel, food and lodging; and $1,000 from Pfizer, Inc., for services other than consulting.
• In 2015, Buehler received $23,018.98 from Stryker Corporation for consulting, travel, food and lodging.
The Democratic Party of Oregon also claims Buehler did not disclose a payment he received in 2013 as a member of the board of the St. Charles Health System, which also contracts with the state. He did disclose receiving payments of more than $1,000 from St. Charles Health System in 2014 and 2015, according to the party.
Earlier this session, Buehler sponsored two bills aimed at apparent “pay-to-play” between public contractors and public officials.
House Bill 2914 would require prospective contractors to disclose the top five entities in campaigns — for either candidates or ballot measures — to whom they donated money.
House Joint Resolution 17 would amend the state’s constitution to prohibit current public contractors from donating to political campaigns.
Both were referred to the House Committee on Rules Feb. 20; amending the constitution through HJR 17 would ultimately require voter approval.
Jeanne Atkins, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon — and former Oregon secretary of state — said in a statement that Buehler “made a public point of expressing concern about pay-to-play politics in Oregon, but his own actions appear to violate state ethics laws and deserve a full investigation.”
Buehler was elected to his seat in 2014 after an unsuccessful bid for secretary of state in 2012. He considered a run for governor in 2015, after the resignation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber prompted a special election in 2016 to finish out his term, according to previous reporting by The Bulletin in Bend.
Another gubernatorial election is scheduled for November 2018, and previous media reports have speculated Buehler may be interested in seeking the office.