By next January, Washington lawmakers should have clearer guidance on when it’s OK to accept free meals from lobbyists.
The state’s Legislative Ethics Board decided Tuesday to clarify the rules governing gifts in the form of food and beverage. The Board’s action follows our investigation last year into lobbyist-paid meals.
Washington state law says lawmakers can accept free food and drink on “infrequent occasions.” But the term “infrequent” has never been defined.
Richard Hodgin of Seattle filed an ethics complaint last year against lawmakers who accepted several meals paid for by lobbyists. In public testimony, Hodgin offered the Ethics Board a list of synonyms for “infrequent.”
“Scant, scarce, seldom, unusual," he said. "I don’t think this fits what is happening down here at the Capitol at all.”
Our investigation with the Associated Press found some lawmakers ate out dozens of times at lobbyist expense.
Another citizen who testified called for an outright ban on free meals for lawmakers. That’s unlikely. However, the Board may consider requiring lawmakers to file reports when they accept a free meal. This is something lobbyists currently do when they pick up the tab.