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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Lawmakers Defend Frequent Dinners With Lobbyists

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Washington Legislature

Two Washington state lawmakers are defending their frequent dinners with lobbyists. The meals show up in monthly reports filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

State Representative Marcus Riccelli is a freshman Democrat from Spokane. On four occasions from January through March, he dined out with Michael Temple, a lobbyist for the state’s powerful trial lawyers association.

When I asked Riccelli about those dinners he joked, “I’m an Italian kid, I have a big appetite.”

More seriously, Riccelli said some of these dinners came about at the last minute at the end of a busy day.

“What’s nice is that you work a long day and you’re thinking ‘oh, I got to go grab a bite and is it going to be Jack In The Box, is it going to be something else’ and you have an opportunity to sit down and wind down a little bit and have these discussions in the evenings when we’re not working late on the floor.”

Temple, the lobbyist, says there should be nothing surprising about his four meals with Riccelli.

“I’ve known him for a very long time. I knew him when he was a staff person in the legislature. His father is also a member of our association and so he is a natural for us to talk to about any number of legal and civil justice issues.”

The group Common Cause says dinners like these can lead to “influence buying.” Both Temple and Riccelli say there is no quid pro quo.

“That’s just totally inappropriate and there’s never any expectation of that,” says Temple.

“You’re never beholden to anybody," Riccelli says. "We’re here to represent our constituents and represent the state the best as we can and none of that has any impact on any of the decision making at all.”

Another name that shows up frequently in a review of lobbying reports is Senate Floor Leader Joe Fain, a Republican. Between January and March, Fain ate out a dozen times with a contract lobbyist whose clients include Microsoft and Comcast. Fain declined an interview, but a staffer noted that some of those were group gatherings with other lawmakers and lobbyists and that Fain didn’t necessarily eat even if he was counted at the table.

Lobbyist meals are legal in Washington as long as they are properly reported.

On the Web:

Lobbyist expenses and compensation - Washington Public Disclosure Commission

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."