Wash. ethics panel examining free lobbyist meals

OLYMPIA — An ethics panel in the Legislature is collecting information on how often five Washington state senators accepted free meals from lobbyists, officials said Tuesday.

Mike O’Connell, an attorney with the Legislative Ethics Board, said lawyers are spending hours gathering records in order to present information to the board in September. The board has a range of options, including issuing fines, admonishments or updated guidance, he said.

“Everybody deserves a little more clarity on these things,” O’Connell said.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint filed after The Associated Press and a consortium of public radio stations found that the state’s 50 most active lobbyists pampered legislators with $65,000 in free meals in the first four months of this year. Washington ethics law prohibits public officials from accepting free meals on more than “infrequent occasions,” but that rule is not clearly defined.

The ethics complaint focused on the top five recipients identified by reporters: Republican Sens. Doug Ericksen, of Ferndale; Steve Litzow, of Mercer Island; Joe Fain, of Auburn; Mike Hewitt, of Walla Walla; and Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville.

Richard Hodgin, a salesman in Seattle who filed the ethics complaint, said it was clear to him that lawmakers were violating the ethics law. He said he doesn’t want the research to focus on just the top five lawmakers.

“I was actually more interested in this being looked at as the Washington state Legislature as a whole — and possibly the companies and lobbyists doing the pampering,” Hodgin said.

Hodgin said he’s not really interested in seeing lawmakers fined or punished. Instead, he wants to see changes in the rules so that lawmakers pick up their own tabs.

Along with the issue of meal frequency, O’Connell said officials were examining the issue of per diems. Lawmakers continued accepting full per diems even while they got free meals, and O’Connell said he was seeking clarity on that issue.

More in Local News

Lynnwood boy’s uncle under investigation of 1st-degree murder

Documents show he told detectives he came up with a plan to kill the child, and had succeeded.

Second teen charged after $1 million in school vandalism

Two teens now face felony charges for damage at two schools in Darrington last summer.

This dental office devoted a day to free care for veterans

All Smiles Northwest in Everett was among businesses observing Freedom Day USA.

A potentially transformative council election in Snohomish

As the city adopts a new form of government, many new faces are seeking office.

Majority of Marysville City Council seats are contested

The most closely watched race is between Mark James and Donna Wright.

Snohomish mayoral candidates have very little in common

Karen Guzak and John Kartak are vying for the new position.

1 shot dead, another wounded in apparent Everett robbery

There are indications the victims might have known the shooter, who apparently fled in a vehicle.

Mill Creek hires Gina Hortillosa as public works director

Hortillosa will be responsible for creating strategic infrastructure plans to promote economic growth.

Most Read