Employees of State Treasurer Enjoy Luxury Perks; Conflicts of Interest

Oregon Treasurer curbs investment travel, calls for review
The Oregonian
April 07, 2010
by Ted Sickinger and Les Zaitz

In response to an ongoing investigation by The Oregonian, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler on Wednesday announced measures to clamp down on travel by the agency's investment officers, ending free golf and first-class airfare they enjoyed while monitoring $67 billion in state money.

Wheeler directed Deputy Treasurer Darren Bond and the agency's chief audit executive to conduct a "top-to-bottom" review of the agency's travel policies and conduct. He wants a report by June 1.

Wheeler was picked last month by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to replace late Treasurer Ben Westlund, who died in early March. Wheeler is running for election to the position in November's general election.

Wheeler was responding to an ongoing investigation by The Oregonian, which has been examining travel across the country and overseas by 13 employees in the agency's investment division. Those employees oversee some $67 billion in pension and other state monies, which are invested in publicly traded stocks, bonds, as well as private partnerships that invest in real estate, leveraged buyouts, corporate debt and other investment vehicles. The state Public Employee Retirement Fund is the primary source of money for those investments.

The officers travel around the world to meet with investment management firms and monitor existing investments. They also sit on advisory boards connected to those funds.

The agency's new policies will "strengthen" current guidelines, requiring investment officers to fly coach on domestic trips, and ban investment officers from participating in hosted golf or other off-site entertainment unless the cost is paid by the officers out of their own salaries, according to a news release.

"It sends the wrong message to participate in hosted golf and other entertainment activities while thousands of Oregonians face foreclosure, unemployment or are simply struggling," Wheeler said in his letter to Bond.

Wheeler said in the news release that due diligence travel was essential, but that "I believe we should take steps to ensure that travel is not only cost effective, but also in line with what the public expects from public employees during challenging economic times."

- Ted Sickinger, Les Zaitz

© 2010 OregonLive.com. All rights reserved.

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