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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

December 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Ethics board calls for clearer rules on gifts to lawmakers

A state ethics panel is calling for clearer rules about how often lobbyists can take lawmakers out for free meals.

Writing in response to a recent complaint about meals received by five state senators, the Legislative Ethics Board said this week that unless rules are clarified, it would be “unfair” to punish any lawmaker for getting free meals.

Currently, the ethics law allows officials to accept  gifts of food or drinks on “infrequent occasions.”

The board said that if the Legislature doesn’t move next year to clarify what that means, it will do so on its own.

“The absence of any standard or guidance has created a situation where legislators do not know at what point their actions may constitute a violation,” according to the board’s opinion, issued Wednesday, which noted “serious concerns about the allegations raised in this complaint.”

The complaint was filed last spring following an Associated Press investigation that found that Sens. Doug Ericksen, Steve Litzow, Joe Fain, Mike Hewitt and Mark Schoesler had accepted dozens of meals during the four-month regular legislative session.

Ericksen, who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, was reported to have had the most free meals — 62, worth some $2,029, according to AP.

Ericksen and some of the other senators, all Republicans, downplayed the complaint as politically motivated.

The board found that there was “no reasonable definition of ‘infrequent’ with which the number of known gifts received by these legislators could be permitted” under state law.

But the  board decided to dismiss the complaint nonetheless.

“Because of the uncertainty surrounding the statute,” the board wrote, members were “divided on the question of whether there is reasonable cause to believe the Act has been violated in this case.”

Comments | More in State government | Topics: doug ericksen, free meals, Legislative Ethics Board

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