State lawmakers from around the country will descend on Seattle the week of August 3 for a national legislative summit.

Nearly two years after public radio and the Associated Press investigated lobbyist-paid meals for Washington lawmakers, the issue is still a topic of discussion in the legislature.

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Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board has capped the number of free meals lawmakers can accept from lobbyists.

Now the Ethics Board will consider whether lawmakers must report those meals. A meeting is scheduled for December 2.

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Starting in January, Washington lawmakers will be barred from accepting more than 12 lobbyist paid meals per year. The state’s Legislative Ethics Board adopted that limit today after months of public hearings and deliberation.

Ethics Board Settles On 12 Lobbyist-Paid Meals Per Year

Aug 19, 2014
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Washington lawmakers will be allowed to accept a dozen lobbyist-paid meals per year but no more. That was the vote Tuesday from the state’s Legislative Ethics Board.

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Washington state law allows lawmakers to accept gifts of food and drink on infrequent occasions. But the word “infrequent” has never been defined.

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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.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

There’s a lot of debate these days about unlimited money in politics - and whether it corrupts the process. But does it matter who’s giving the money? And what their motivation is? In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has found a wealthy partner in his fight to combat global climate change. He’s California hedge fund founder Tom Steyer – a man the L.A. Times says may be the “liberals’ answer” to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins reports on Inslee’s connection to this out-of-state billionaire.

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By next January Washington lawmakers should have clearer guidance on when it’s OK to accept free meals from lobbyists.

It looks like Washington lawmakers may adjourn their 60-day legislative session without addressing the issue of lobbyist-paid entertainment.

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Washington’s ethics boards should define how often lawmakers can dine out at lobbyist expense. That’s the consensus of nearly a dozen state senators. They’ve signed onto a proposal that would direct legislative and executive ethics panels to clarify the rules for lobbyist-paid meals.

An ethics panel in Washington has ruled that five Republican state senators did not violate Washington ethics law when they accepted dozens of free meals from lobbyists earlier this year.

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

The staff at Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission has recommended changes to how lobbyists report their meals out with lawmakers. 

Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board is tackling the issue of how often lawmakers can accept meals from lobbyists. The Board spent nearly two hours behind closed doors Thursday discussing a complaint against several lawmakers who dined out regularly with lobbyists last session.

The complaint was triggered by our investigation with the Associated Press into lawmakers who accept free meals from lobbyists. That’s permitted if legislative business is discussed, but only on an infrequent basis.

Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board has launched an investigation into lobbyist-paid meals for lawmakers.

The inquiry follows our reporting with the Associated Press on lawmakers who dine out the most with lobbyists. The investigation was triggered by a formal citizen complaint filed last month – a complaint that’s just now coming to light.

It alleges five Republican state senators violated Washington’s ethics law by eating out regularly at lobbyist expense. They were the top five on our list of frequent diners.

Lobbyists in Washington state routinely fail to properly report dinners out with lawmakers. And dinners over $50 in value do not always show up – as required – on lawmakers’ personal financial statements. Those are among the findings of a public radio investigation – conducted in cooperation with the Associated Press.

The 'Morton Rule'

When retired Senator Bob Morton was in the Washington legislature, he’d go out to lunch with a lobbyist. But he had a rule.

Washington state lawmakers are barred from accepting gifts intended to influence their vote. But there’s an exception to that rule. Members of the legislature are allowed to accept free food and drinks if it’s related to their official duties, but only on an “infrequent” basis.

However, a public radio investigation, done in cooperation with the Associated Press, reveals that dozens of state legislators frequently accept meals from lobbyists. And many of them do so even while collecting taxpayer-funded per diem payments.

Two Washington state lawmakers are defending their frequent dinners with lobbyists. The meals show up in monthly reports filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins has been digging into those reports.

In the first three months of this year, lobbyists in Washington state spent more than $200,000 on entertainment. Much of that money was spent to wine and dine state lawmakers during the just-concluded 105-day session. But what are lobbyists and their clients getting in exchange for picking up the tab?

After the legislative day ends up at the Capitol, it’s pretty common for some of the players to decamp. They go to one of a handful of usually higher-end Olympia establishments. This is where – over a meal, perhaps a bottle of Washington wine – the work continues.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – More than 60 lobbyists in Washington have been sent warning letters. That’s because they failed to submit monthly reports that detail how much they earned and how much they spent to lobby state lawmakers.

The warning letters come from Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. Here's a flavor of what the out-of-compliance lobbyists received in their mailboxes.

“This letter is the only formal warning you will receive from PDC staff for not filing timely lobbying reports during 2013.”

OLYMPIA, Wash. – New disclosure reports are out on money spent for lobbying in Olympia. Who tops the list? So far Washington’s teachers’ union is spending the most to influence state lawmakers this legislative session.

The Washington Education Association has five top priorities for the 2013 legislature. The list includes more money for schools as directed by the Washington Supreme Court. The union is also pushing for competitive salaries and benefits for teachers and support staff.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In the world of state legislatures, there’s a powerful breed of players who normally shun the spotlight. They prefer to work behind the scenes to influence policy outcomes. We’re talking about business lobbyists. Inside this often hidden world, you’ll meet two of the most successful corporate contract lobbyists in the Washington state capitol. And learn some of their tricks of the trade.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Lobbyists have been pounding down the doors of Washington state lawmakers for the last several months. But now that the legislature has adjourned, the roles have suddenly reversed. Just ask lobbyist Nick Federici who advocates for human services organizations.

Nick Federici: “It is a little bit ironic that in a week’s time they went from ‘oh my God I don’t want to talk to you ever again’ to ‘oh, by the way, could you send me a check?’”