Legislators, write a clear rule on free meals from lobbyists

The OlympianDecember 27, 2013 

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The state Legislative Ethics Board last week dismissed a complaint that some legislators were engaging in unethical behavior when it comes to accepting free meals from lobbyists.

But along with the dismissal, the board urged lawmakers to better police their behavior by clarifying just what constitutes too much largesse by lobbyists.

A 2013 investigation by The Associated Press and several public radio stations revealed that 50 of the more active state lobbyists offered to legislators free of charge meals and drinks valued at $65,000 in the first four months of the year, a time when the Legislature was in session and casting votes on bills that those lobbyists either favored or opposed.

The ethics board ruled that the Ethics in Public Service Act, which says legislators should not accept free meals on more than “infrequent occasions” is too vague to know when a legislator has stepped over the ethical line.

The board recommended that lawmakers better establish a standard for free wining and dining so they and the public know when a violation has occurred.

Many legislators have expressed indignation at the thought that their votes could be bought and sold, especially for a steak dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. The board has offered legislators a chance to set some rules and standards that are clear and enforceable. The legislators should take advantage of the opportunity in the 2014 session. They should approve some standards that leave no doubt that their votes are not for sale.

If they are not up for the task, the ethics board, with input from the public, can do it for them.

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