Washington Legislative Ethics Panel To Consider Free-Meals Rule

Aug 18, 2014

How many free meals is too many? That’s the question an ethics panel aims to answer at a public hearing Tuesday in Olympia. The Legislative Ethics Board will consider a draft proposal to limit how many free meals lawmakers can accept from lobbyists.

Washington law allows lawmakers to accept gifts of food and drink on infrequent occasions. But that word “infrequent” has never been defined.

Last year, we teamed with the Associated Press to track free meals. Our investigation, which found some lawmakers regularly accepted lobbyist-paid meals, triggered the board’s interest in the issue.

Now the board is considering a range of limits on free meals: from as few as two-per-year to as many as one per week. Once the board decides, it will tackle another issue: whether lawmakers should have to report these meals. Lobbyists already do, but the paper filings with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission are hard to track.