Editorial: Reform rules on wining and dining of lawmakers by lobbyists
Lawmakers’ assurances they can't be bought over free meals from lobbyists must be backed by stronger ethics rules.
Seattle Times Editorial
TAXPAYERS already give lawmakers a daily allowance when the Washington Legislature is in session. The taxpayers should know exactly who might be trying to influence their elected officials with free food and booze.
Lobbyists reported spending a whopping $54 million on behalf of their clients in 2013, including $65,000 in meals for lawmakers during that year’s legislative session, according to expense reports reviewed by The Associated Press and the Northwest News Network.
Those stories found that numerous Republicans and Democrats accepted complimentary meals from special-interest groups — on top of what was then a $90 daily allowance available to every lawmaker during the session to cover food, travel and lodging.
A vague state rule allows elected officials to be wined and dined on an "infrequent” basis. One lawmaker, state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, accepted more than 60 meals worth more than $2,000 during the nearly four-month long 2013 legislative session.
When the story broke, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle promised to define state rules, increase transparency and limit freebies. But the 2014 session came and went. Nothing changed, except for one significant fact: Lawmakers actually gave themselves a sizable boost in their daily allowance to $120.
So now it's up to the Legislative Ethics Board, which includes citizens and lawmakers, to create and enforce some basic standards.
The nine-member panel meets at noon Tuesday in Senate Hearing Room 3 of the John A. Cherberg Building in Olympia. They will consider four options. Public comments will be accepted, so speak up.
All four proposals would require lawmakers to report food and beverage gifts that meet various thresholds. One proposal allows a single meal per week to be covered by lobbyists. The strictest measure would permit lawmakers to accept up to five meals with a value of more than $5 per year.
Lawmakers should get a clue: Perception matters.
If there’s no conflict, they should have no problem revealing who covers their food and bar bills. Better yet — they should just pay for themselves.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).