Free Food and Drink Leads to State Ethics Investigation for Five Lawmakers

Just as I was about to invite all my favorite state legislators out to a delicious free lunch at Chipotle comes news from Brian Rosenthal at the Seattle Times that “A state ethics panel is investigating whether five senators accepted too many free meals from lobbyists this year ...”

Of course, I’m no lobbyist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy wining and dining my favorite lawmakers. I mean, who doesn’t love buying a legislator a Cobb salad?

According to Rosenthal, the state ethics panel investigation - which was launched after an AP story in May on the number of free meals legislators gobbled up during the four-month session led a 65-year-old Seattlite to file a formal complaint - could result in fines for legislators that ate too much, but could also lead to clarifications to the state law that currently allows lawmakers to accept gifts of food and drink on an “infrequent basis.” Richard Hodgin, who filed the complaint, tells the Times he did so because of the hypocrisy of lawmakers accepting free food while simultaneously “making budget decisions that hurt the poor.”

What constitutes an “infrequent basis”? It’s a good question. As the AP reported, and Rosenthal points out, Sens. Doug Ericksen, Steve Litzow, Joe Fain, Mike Hewitt and Mark Schoesler received the most free meals in 2013.

From the Times:

Ericksen, who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, was reported to have had the most free meals — 62, worth some $2,029, according to AP.

Schoesler, R-Ritzville, was reported to have accepted $1,101 of meals; Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, $1,228; Fain, R-Auburn, $1,428; and Litzow, R-Mercer Island, $1,477.

According to the Times, Ericksen and Schoesler have questioned the motivations of the complaint because it listed only the top five food and drink recipients in the AP’s story - all of whom happened to be Republicans. Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina was sixth on the list, reported to have gobbled down $1,041 in meals, but was not included in the formal complaint. However, the AP reports that Hodgin wants the investigation to include all lawmakers in Olympia.

Still, Ericksen and Schoesler both seem to agree the system could use some help and clarification.

“Is it an imperfect system? Probably,” Ericksen tells the Times.

“The whole thing probably could use some looking at and updating,” says Schoesler.

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