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

A customer walks away after buying a hot dog from a vendor on 33rd St and Smith Street near the Everett Station on Friday. The Everett Station District Alliance pictures the area east of Broadway and south of Hewitt Avenue as a future neighborhood and transit hub that could absorb expected population growth. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
How can Everett Station become a vibrant part of city?

A neighborhood alliance focused on long-term revitalization will update the public Tuesday.

Agency didn’t expect such big demand for needle clean-up kits

The Snohomish Health District ran out of supplies quickly, but more are arriving daily.

EvCC teachers take their contract concerns to the board

Their union says negotiations have been disappointingly slow. The community college isn’t commenting.

Here’s what to do if you want to vote and aren’t registered

Oct. 30 is the deadline for new-voter registration in time for the November election.

Two teens struck by truck in Lynnwood

The teens, between the ages of 14 and 16, were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Luring attempt reported in Mountlake Terrace

The driver allegedly instructed a boy to get in the truck and help grab a scooter he was giving away.

Injured hiker rescued near Granite Falls

Woman fell and hit her head on a rock Saturday, and her condition worsened overnight.

Council passes six-month moratorium on safe injection sites

Proposal by County Councilman Nate Nehring passed unanimously.

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

Most Read