During the Special Session of the Oregon legislature in February 2010, I sent each one of them an e-mail. That e-mail requested the legislator to tell me if he or she was a PERS members. Only the following ten legislators provided that information to me: Sen. Ferrioli; Sen. Boquist; Sen. Telfer; Rep. Esquivel; Rep. Gelser; Rep. Greenlick; Rep. Huffman; Rep. Riley; Rep. Whisnant; and Rep. Wingard. The other eighty simply ignored my request.
My next step was to send a formal public records request to each of those eighty members. The legislative counsel, acting on their behalf, denied my request stating that the PERS membership status of the legislators was personal information and was not subject to disclosure. In response to this denial, I ended up filing a public records request lawsuit against one member, Sen. Courtney. Shortly after the suit was filed, Sen. Courtney provided his PERS membership status to me. Thereafter, all the remaining members eventually provided that information. Fifty-nine of them had joined PERS as legislators. Thirty-one had not.
I have had legislators and others tell me that the retirement benefit the legislator could get from PERS is too small and insignificant to influence how they vote on PERS matters. But that just does not ring true to me. If it was true, why would they sell their independence on PERS matters for just a few pieces of silver? And why would they refuse to disclose the PERS membership until faced with a lawsuit?
In the current legislature, the gap between PERS legislators and non-PERS legislators has narrowed but PERS members still have total control over legislative changes to PERS. The Oregon Senate has thirty members and at least twenty-two of them are in PERS. Oregon’s governor is a PERS member as is every Oregon judge.
If you like PERS members having absolute control over the PERS laws, you should feel very good about the present situation. If you would prefer independent PERS control, however, it is a very discouraging state of affairs.