State Senators Want Ethics Boards — Not Lawmakers — To Define ‘Infrequent’ Meals

Jan 24, 2014

Washington’s ethics boards should define how often lawmakers can dine out at lobbyist expense, according to nearly a dozen state senators who’ve signed onto a proposal that would direct legislative and executive ethics panels to clarify the rules for lobbyist-paid meals.

Washington law allows state lawmakers to accept free meals from lobbyists on an “infrequent” basis. But that’s never been defined.

Last year, we, in partnership with the Associated Press, reported on lawmakers who regularly allowed lobbyists to pick up the tab. That prompted an ethics investigation that ultimately cleared lawmakers named in the complaint and deferred to the legislature to define “infrequent.”

But Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, believes ethics watchdogs, not lawmakers, should make that call “so that there’s no question in the minds of either lobbyists, legislators or the public what that standard is.”

Fain does believe the Legislature should require electronic reporting of entertainment expenses. His proposed bill would charge lobbyists an annual fee to create a new online reporting system.

Fain says his interest is in making sure the reports are accurate and transparent to the public.

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, has long pushed for electronic filing of lobbyist reports. He says he’s been assured his measure get a vote in the Democratically-controlled House this year. Moeller adds that he thinks lawmakers are in a position this year to define what “infrequent” meals means.