Free Meal Complaint Against Lawmakers Dismissed, ‘Serious Concerns’ Remain

Dec 20, 2013

Five Republican state senators did not violate Washington ethics law when they accepted dozens of free meals from lobbyists earlier this year, according to a ruling made public Friday by Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board.

However, the board added the situation raises “serious questions” and an “enforceable” rule is needed.

The citizen complaint against the senators stemmed from our investigation in partnership with the Associated Press earlier this year into lobbyist-paid meals. We found several state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle regularly dine out at lobbyist expense.

State law says lawmakers may do this on an “infrequent” basis, but that has never been defined. The Legislative Ethics Board now says if the Legislature doesn’t clarify the law during the 2014 session, the board will begin a rule-making process to define “infrequent.” The decision to dismiss the complaint against the senators was made by a divided Ethics Board.

In addition, the board said it does not have jurisdiction over the question of whether it’s appropriate for lawmakers to accept a free meal while also accepting taxpayer-funded per diem.

The board also found that lobbyists may be required to report these meals, but those reports are inconsistent and that makes it difficult to obtain reliable data.