State Senator Rob Wagner addresses ethics concerns

State Senator Rob Wagner, who also serves as the Lake Oswego School Board Chair, has recently attracted attention for his work as an educational consultant for Portland State University. Some political observers have raised questions about the contract work because of Wagner’s current role as the chair of the Senate Education Committee, a committee that PSU regularly lobbies. But Wagner’s contract for the university isn’t expected to involve lobbying or any issues directly related to his work as a state senator.

According to documents submitted to the Oregon Ethics Commission, Wagner will be responsible for advising PSU on transfer services, Edquity, and the university’s 75th birthday celebration. Wagner will be paid $5,500 a month for his services and provided part-time office space at the university. He is currently expected to be contracted for 20 hours of work per week, and the contract will last one year, with the option to renew it for one additional year.

Concerns were first raised when Wagner preemptively reported his contracting bid to the Oregon Ethics Commission. Normally, state senators and state representatives with possible conflicts of interest announce the conflict on the House or Senate floor, but Wagner wanted to proactively clear the contract with the commission. The commission gave him a clean bill of health. In a December 17 letter from Oregon Ethics Commission, Director Ron Bersin stated that none of the available facts appeared to show that Wagner or his consulting firm, Pomme Partners, were offered the contract as a result of Wagner’s status in the Oregon Legislative Assembly.

Wagner isn’t the first Oregon politician to seek employment from employers with connections to Oregon legislative business. Oregon has a citizen legislature, which means that state representatives and state senators are not paid a salary, so, unless they are retired or come from money, they have to have other part-time or full-time jobs.

Wagner was appointed to the state senate in January of 2018, following the retirement of Richard Devlin. Before his appointment, Wagner worked for Portland Community College as the associate vice-president for advancement, coordinating publicity and media for the school and its foundation. Wagner has also previously worked as an Oregon lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers. In November of 2018, Wagner was elected to a full-term in the Oregon State Senate. He will be up for re-election in 2022.