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Patty Murray's staff holds retreat - at lobbying firm
Posted by Jim Brunner
Even as their boss negotiates a delicate deal on how to cut billions of dollars from the federal budget, the state staff of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is holed up for a two-day retreat at the offices of a prominent Seattle lobbying firm.
Murray, a Democrat now in her fourth term, remains in D.C. co-chairing the deficit-reduction "supercommittee" trying to find ways to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
But her Washington state staff is spending Tuesday and Wednesday at Strategies 360, the lobbying outfit founded by Democratic political operative Ron Dotzauer. Karen Waters, a former deputy state director for Murray's office, is a senior vice-president at the firm.
Strategies 360 represents dozens of clients with an interest in federal legislation and the budget, according to Senate lobbying disclosures. Its registered clients this year include pharmaceutical companies, public utilities and a solar manufacturer.
Dotzauer confirmed Murray's staff was using his firm's conference rooms but said he was not participating in the event. "I have no idea what they are doing," he said.
Dotzauer said free use of the firm's spacious conference rooms is a courtesy the company has extended to "lots of different groups," such as nonprofits, in the past. "If it's not scheduled up, we let people use it," he said.
Asked about the retreat, Murray communications director Matt McAlvanah called it a "non-story."
"Our office took steps to ensure this staff retreat was in no way an ethical violation as we have for years with any event held at offices or businesses throughout the area. In the past we've held similar meetings at the Port of Seattle, the Puget Sound Regional Council, and even local pizzerias," McAlvanah said in an emailed statement.
He said those steps included checking with Strategies 360 on the "going rate" for the rooms.
Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the location of the staff retreat raises questions.
The Senate Ethics Manual prohibits lobbyists from making financial contributions or expenditures "relating to a conference, retreat, or similar event" for members of the Senate, or their employees.
Even if the free use of conference rooms is not considered a financial contribution (because Strategies 360 allows others to use them for free), Allison said it remains an ethically questionable decision by Murray's staff.
"Whether it satisfies the rule or not, clearly having a lobbying firm host her staffers is a benefit she [Murray] is getting from the lobbying firm," Allison said. "It's the kind of thing that makes most people shake their head and say 'why isn't it against the rules?' "
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