Clear Fog Blog

Political musings from Warren E. Peterson

Lobbyists, Legislators, Ethics and Free Meals

Posted by Warren Peterson on October 28, 2013

A few months ago an Associated Press article on legislators accepting free meals from lobbyists appeared in various Washington State media. Soon after another article was released covering a concerned citizen’s complaint filed with the Legislative Ethics Board against five Republican State Senators. They were the top five Senate recipients of the meals. No surprise since Republicans, thanks to two renegade Democrats, hold the majority in the Senate and therefore hold the most power over lobbyist interests. Also no surprise when a quick Google of the concerned citizen’s name revealed he is a liberal Democrat activist. Neither surprise was mentioned in the article.

I waited for a more balanced follow-up but when none was forthcoming, I filed a similar complaint against all Democrat Legislators from King County. The Legislative Ethics Board sent me a letter acknowledging my complaint and noting its similarity to the concerned citizen complaint. They are working on the complaints but no date was given for a ruling on the matter.

Personally, I hope the Board rejects both complaints. I do not believe the legislators violated the law or legislative ethics. I filed the complaint for three reasons: 1) to counter the biased reporting on the issue 2) to highlight the need for reform of disclosure requirements and 3) protest the selective misuse of disclosure reports for blatantly political purposes.

Most of the reform discussion centers on state law that attempts to define what value of meals or gifts a “state officer or state employee” may accept. Lobbyists are required to report meal costs for each legislator but how does a lobbyist report such expenditures on meals when several legislators are in attendance?

There are lobbyists for virtually every interest in the state and they perform a vital role in the legislative process. No legislator is well versed on every issue. Fellow legislators, constituents, personal research and, yes, lobbyists all are sources of information needed to make informed votes. Sometimes this information is given over a meal. Sometimes lobbyists use social events as an opportunity for legislators and lobbyists to get to know one another. Such activities need to be done in the light of public disclosure but the disclosure should be factual, clear and significant. The current system fails on all counts.
It needs reform. Design unambiguous reporting requirements; call out the partisan hit jobs for what they are, inject some common sense.

Warren Peterson
Former State Representative

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