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Government and Politics
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."

New Lobbyist Meal Form To Distinguish Chowder From Steak

Washington Public Disclosure Commission
A view of the new form lobbyists use to report entertainment spending in Washington state

The staff at Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission has recommended changes to how lobbyists report their meals out with lawmakers. 

The move follows our investigation last spring with the Associated Press into lobbyist-paid entertainment.

Nearly 20 years ago, there was a legislator who wanted to make sure his constituents knew that when he went out with a lobbyist he ate chowder, not a fancy steak. That led to a requirement that lobbyists accurately report the per-person amount they spend on lawmakers. But the form lobbyists use to report entertainment spending was never updated.

Our stories on lobbyist-paid meals revealed that many don’t include a per-person amount and those who do often just divide the total bill by the number of people at the table.

Lori Anderson from the Public Disclosure Commission says the updated form will now clearly instruct lobbyists to distinguish the chowder from the steak. “We hope with the new instructions and adding an example to the form that we’re going to take away any confusion and get good data.”

The PDC Board will consider the proposed change to the form at its meeting this week.

Some lobbyists have complained it’s impractical to track what every lawmaker orders at a meal.