Even politicians need help when illness strikes

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Politicians aren’t usually the most trusted or adored folks. The term politician seems to be used more as a pejorative to disparage rather than to identify those seeking public office.

And right behind — or is that ahead? — politician is lobbyist. Lobbyist often shows up in sentences that include terms such as “buying influence.”

So it’s not surprising strict rules are in place to restrict the amount of money and gifts that can be exchanged between lobbyists and legislators.

Yet, politicians are human. It can be easy to forget, until they face serious medical challenges that threaten not only their lives but their financial futures.

Currently, three state lawmakers in Olympia are dealing with this possibility. Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, and Reps. Roger Freeman, D-Federal Way, and Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, are dealing with serious health concerns. Carrell is in need of a bone-marrow transplant and Freeman has cancer. It is not yet known what ails DeBolt, but he recently stepped down as Republican leader because of his health.

Colleagues, friends, lobbyists and those who work with them daily — those who know them as people rather than politicians — want to help them by covering some of the medical costs.

But given the strict rules on gift giving, is that legal?

Legislative lawyers are advising ailing lawmakers to take no more than $50 from people offering to help with medical expenses to stay in line with ethics laws. That’s what the Legislative Ethics Board was told at its meeting last week, according to The Tacoma News Tribune.

This is understandable, but also sad that kindness toward others has to be limited because of the ethical breaches that have spurred the tight restrictions imposed by law.

Yet, there are legal and ethical ways for donations to be made.

House legal counsel Tim Sekerak, The News Tribune reported, said state employees — including fellow legislators and staff members — are not limited to $50 gifts under ethics laws. And limits do not apply if it can be shown there is a personal relationship between the lawmaker and the donor.

That’s reasonable.

Still, that’s no guarantee a donation won’t trigger trouble.

Legislative lawyers are urging donations be made anonymously when possible to avoid the appearance of seeking favors, Sekerak said.

That seems to be the most prudent approach. Gifts to help are not being made (or, at least, should not) to gain attention or praise, but to help another person in need.

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