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Washington Lawmakers To Get Clearer Guidance On Lobbyist-Paid Meals

Robert S. Donovan

Washington lawmakers will soon get clearer guidance on when it’s okay to accept free meals from lobbyists.

The state’s legislative ethics board Tuesday wrapped up a months-long review of lobbyist-paid meals. This followed our investigation earlier this year into lawmakers who regularly dine out at lobbyist expense.

Washington ethics law says lawmakers can accept free meals on an “infrequent” basis. But our investigation with the Associated Press found some legislators allowed lobbyists to pick up their tabs several times a month during the last legislative session – often while still accepting taxpayer funded per diems.

The Legislative Ethics Board got involved after a citizen filed a complaint against five Republican state senators. Board chair Kristine Hoover says her members spent a lot of time behind closed doors debating the meaning of a single word.

“The word ‘infrequent’ really was part of the ambiguity that we struggled with," she says. "And hopefully through this process we’ll be able to address what that means.”

The Ethics Board hopes to issue a formal opinion before Christmas. It could include sanctions for the five state senators or just clearer instructions to all Washington lawmakers on what “infrequent” means when it comes to letting a lobbyist pick up the check

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."