Politics Blog

Lobbyist limit proposed for WA legislators: 12 free meals a year

Rachel La Corte of the Associated Press in Olympia is reporting today, Tuesday, Aug. 19, that the Legislative Ethics Board began to sketch out rules limiting free meals from lobbyists.

Members of the Washington state Legislature could get no more than 12 free meals a year, under a plan tentatively approved today.

The board's vote was 5-3, with the "yes" votes coming from two Democrats and three citizen members of the board. The "no" votes came from three Republicans.

An investigation by AP and a consortium of public radio stations released in May 2013 showed that "the state's 50 most active lobbyists spent $65,000 in meals for lawmakers in the first four months of 2013," La Corte reported.

The biggest recipient of the free meals, according to the investigation, was a local senator, Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who was tagged with 62 free meals in those four months, with a total value of $2,029.

Ericksen objected to the investigation's conclusions, saying the dollar figures were inaccurate and often included events where he met with constituents, or appeared as a speaker, but did not eat.

Democrats and Republicans both criticized the way lobbyists reported meals to the Public Disclosure Commission as unfair.

The Ethics Board investigated Ericksen and others but dropped the case in late December 2013 after judging that the law limiting lobbyist meals to no more than "infrequent occasions" was too vague.

After the Legislature failed to pass a bill reforming the rules governing meals from lobbyists, the Ethics Board took up the topic again in June. Today's vote was the first result to come out of the board's work.

The board may give final approval to lobbyist-meal reforms in October, when it will discuss modifying public disclosure requirements for lobbyists, La Corte reported.