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By Janie Har October 21, 2010

Chuck Riley says Bruce Starr broke the law by taking a free trip to Maui

PolitiFact Oregon remembers 2006 all too well. Leggings made a fashion comeback. Democrats took back the Oregon House. And that fall, The Oregonian reported on a bunch of state legislators for accepting lavish trips to Maui courtesy of the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association.

One of those legislators was state Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, who faces Rep. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, in the Nov. 2 general election. To no one’s surprise, Riley is bringing up Starr’s stay at the palatial Grand Wailea Hotel in May 2002 to attend the distributors’ conference.

Riley’s ad, "On Our Side," starts with a photo of Starr and a pretty Hawaiian view in the background. A female announcer, backed by a breezy ukulele, says: "What’s not pretty? The ethics commission ruled he broke the law by letting lobbyists foot the bill."  (There also appears to be a pork chop dressed up to resemble a pineapple on the table.)  

But it’s not true.

The state ethics commission did fine Starr in 2007 -- but not for going to Hawaii on the dime of a lobbying group. Rather, Starr was fined for failing to disclose the 2002 conference on annual disclosure forms filed with the state. At the time, it was perfectly legal for lobbyists to treat legislators to such trips and for legislators to accept them. The distributors, led by lobbyist Paul Romain, paid about $18,000 in 2002 and in 2004 to fly, feed, shelter and entertain a total of seven state legislators at two conferences.

Starr attended the four-day conference with his wife. The ethics commission fined him $300 for not disclosing that trip and another education trip to Israel paid by another organization.

Starr said at the time that he didn’t report the trip because the lobbyist, Romain, told him he didn’t have to. He amended his reports, showing that the beer and wine distributors paid $961 for airfare, $1,007 for his hotel room, $300 for food and beverages and $250 for golf.

Molly Woon, a spokeswoman for Senate Democrats, defends the statement. Perhaps PolitiFact Oregon is overthinking the issue?  "He broke the law for taking a lobbyist-paid trip; you can say more, but that's the basic fact," she said.

We have to disagree. Starr broke no laws or ethics rules by taking the trip at a lobbyist’s expense, which is what the Democrats’ ad claims. What Starr did wrong was fail to report the trip. The statement is False.

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Our Sources

The Oregonian, "Four other legislators didn't report trip to Maui," Sept. 29, 2006

The Oregonian, "Legislators' trips trigger inquiry," Nov. 18, 2006

E-mail from Government Ethics Commission, Oct. 19, 2010

E-mail from Molly Woon, spokeswoman for Oregon Senate Democrats, Oct. 19, 2010

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Chuck Riley says Bruce Starr broke the law by taking a free trip to Maui

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