To masquerade is to pretend that you are something that you are not. From 1971 through 2009, most Oregon legislators have been engaged in a PERS masquerade. 1971 was the year that Oregon Attorney General withdrew a 1963 opinion and ruled for the first time that legislators could join PERS. After that ruling, the majority of the legislators did join PERS and ever since they have been pretending to represent the people of Oregon when making PERS laws. But that has been a masquerade. They have been representing their own personal interest at the expense of the people of Oregon.
The PERS legislators were able to continue their masquerade until 2009. That way, the people of Oregon did not know that when the legislators were making PERS laws, most of them were acting for their own personal financial interest and not the interest of the people they were elected to represent.
The secrecy of the legislators’ PERS membership status was based on two separate laws. One law applied to all elected officials, including legislators. That law said that legislators could elect to join PERS but they did not have to join. As a result of that law, you could not know if a legislator was a PERS member or not. The other law, passed in 1983, stated that employee and retiree address, telephone number and other nonfinancial membership records maintained by the Public Employees’ Retirement System pursuant to the PERS laws was exempt from public disclosure. Until October 2009, PERS interpreted that law to include PERS membership status.
As a result of those two laws, the people of Oregon did not know whether their legislators were PERS members. But we now know that most of them were. In 1979, 55 of the 90 legislators were PERS members. By 1983, that number had climbed to 84 out of the 90 legislators being in PERS. In 1989, 82 of the 90 were PERS members. The reason we know that is that in 2009, after PERS had refused to give me the PERS status of former Governor Goldschmidt, I appealed to the Oregon Attorney General. The Attorney General ruled in my favor, finding that PERS membership status was subject to public disclosure. Thereafter, I was able to obtain from PERS which legislators were PERS members in any given year.
Then, in 2010, I sent an e-mail to each one of the 90 Oregon legislators, asking them if they were PERS members. Only 10 voluntarily provide that information to me. It was not until after I filed a public records lawsuit against the Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, that the remaining 80 legislators gave that information to me. It turned out that 59 of the 90 legislators were PERS members in 2010.
As a result of the ability of the people of Oregon to discover the PERS status of legislators, the PERS masquerade is over. PERS status of legislators is being openly discussed and some legislative candidates have pledged that if elected to the legislature, they will not join PERS. PERS members have never made up more than 8.5% of Oregon’s population but through secrecy, they were able to take total control of Oregon’s government and they used that control to protect and enhance their own financial interest.
The PERS status of legislators and legislative candidates is important information as Oregon’s history clearly shows that PERS legislators will favor their own financial welfare over the welfare of everything else. If you are uncertain as to whether the people who are running to represent you in Salem are PERS members, ask them and also ask them that, if elected, will they join PERS. Then use that information to help you decide who to vote for. The truth will set us free.