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Ethics Board To Consider Crackdown On Lobbyist-Paid Meals

Austin Jenkins
Richard Hodgin of Seattle testified in favor of stricter free meal rules for Washington state lawmakers.

By next January, Washington state lawmakers should have clearer guidance on when it’s OK to accept free meals from lobbyists. The state’s Legislative Ethics Board decided Tuesday to clarify the rules governing gifts in the form of food and beverage. The board’s action follows our investigation last year into lobbyist-paid meals.

Washington state law says lawmakers can accept free food and drink on “infrequent occasions.” But the term “infrequent” has never been defined. Richard Hodgin of Seattle filed an ethics complaint last year against lawmakers who accepted several meals paid for by lobbyists. In public testimony, Hodgin offered the Ethics Board a list of synonyms for “infrequent.”

“Scant, scarce, seldom, unusual. I don’t think this fits what is happening down here at the Capitol at all,” he said.

Our investigation with the Associated Press found some lawmakers ate out dozens of times at lobbyist expense. Another citizen who testified called for an outright ban on free meals for lawmakers, which is unlikely. However, the board may consider requiring lawmakers to file reports when they accept a free meal — something lobbyists currently do when they pick up the tab.

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." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.