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Wash. Ethics Panel Gets Earful On Lobbyist-Paid Meals For Lawmakers


How often is “infrequent” when it comes to state lawmakers accepting free meals from lobbyists? Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board spent nearly two hours Tuesday taking testimony on that issue and then grappling with the answer. 

State lawmakers are allowed to accept free meals on an “infrequent” basis if it’s in the ordinary course of business. But “infrequent” has never been defined. Our reporting last yearwith the Associated Press revealed some lawmakers eat out regularly at lobbyist expense.

But Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, told the panel he doesn’t see the problem.

“I sometimes get asked to go to four dinners a night. My big fear is not that I’m going to get influenced; it’s that I’m going to get fat," he said.

But Democrat Drew Hansen, who sits on the Ethics Board, sees it differently.

"You don’t need a lobbyist to buy you a steak to conduct your legislative business. I conduct plenty of legislative business over $5 turkey sandwiches that I pay for myself," Hansen said.

The definition of “infrequent” remains undecided. The Ethics Board is considering several proposals from as few as three meals per year to as many as 52 per year. 

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.