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Topic: lobbying

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June 16, 2014 at 6:09 AM

Influencing lawmakers with free food and booze

Hey taxpayers, are you aware that Washington state lawmakers can each claim a daily allowance of up to $120 when they are in a legislative session? That allotment is supposed to cover three meals, lodging and transportation costs. Chances are pretty slim anyone is getting filthy rich off the practice, and The Associated Press reports it’s still below the $155 per diem allowed for state employees traveling to Thurston County.

The problem is lawmakers don’t have to disclose when they are treated to free meals by outside groups. They get their daily allowance regardless and are permitted to enjoy as much fine dining from lobbyists as they please, so long as those occasions are “infrequent.” Only gifts that exceed $50 are supposed to be reported.

A citizen complaint last summer led the Legislative Ethics Board to take a closer look at the legislative branch’s policies on complimentary food. (Read The Seattle Times’ July 29, 2013 editorial.) The panel advised lawmakers to clarify their own rules. That nudge didn’t lead to action, so the board is taking matters into its own hands.

On Tuesday, June 17, the board will meet in Olympia to consider more defined parameters and seek public comments. Board Counsel Mike O’Connell emailed a PDF file listing the four options under consideration. See the spreadsheet below:

Source: Legislative Ethics Board

Source: Legislative Ethics Board

To avoid the appearance of being influenced by lobbyists with deep pockets and fine dining tastes, lawmakers absolutely should track and reveal when they accept free meals, and lobbyists should do the same.

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Comments | Topics: disclosure, legislature, lobbying

June 4, 2013 at 6:05 AM

Washington lobbyists should do their part to embrace transparency, fund ethics database

If the state’s top 50 lobbyists can afford to spend $65,000 within four months on receptions and suppers meant to woo Washington’s part-time legislators, they certainly have a little money to spare to help the Public Disclosure Commission update its technology to make that information accessible to taxpayers. Don’t you think?Dinner

A recent analysis by the Associated Press, KUOW and KPLU showed lobbyists have paid for “hundreds and hundreds” of meals for lawmakers. The PDC does not have the resources to scrutinize those expense reports. In The Columbian’s version of the investigation, reporter Mike Baker writes, “The PDC, considered the state’s disclosure watchdog, hasn’t audited lobbyist filings in nearly a decade, not even doing spot checks to see whether lobbyists are reporting correctly. The Associated Press found cases in which lobbyists failed to properly complete basic forms, failed to disclose details of their expenses or regularly filed reports past their deadlines. Some lobbyists indicated they didn’t know the rules until reporters started asking questions.”

Lest they are too chummy with lobbyists to take meaningful action to reassure voters of their independence, elected officials should do themselves a favor and pass House Bill 1005 by State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. The bill worked its way through the committee process, but it remains stalled in the special session. Here’s what we wrote in our Dec. 27, 2012 editorial supporting the measure:

House Bill 1005 would charge lobbyists and political committees an annual fee to ensure citizens are kept abreast of who is trying to influence their lawmaker. It would also merge existing ethics boards with the Public Disclosure Commission, as well as expand the agency’s electronic filing process and help it create a searchable database that tracks lobbying activities.

That’s no small task. In 2012, total lobbying expenses in Washington reached $51.8 million. But to see how they used that money to entertain lawmakers and which interests they protected, citizens have to find and read through scanned reports that are often filled out in handwriting.

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Comments | Topics: entertainment, house bill 1005, lobbying