State Sen. Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla subject of ethics probe

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A state ethics panel is investigating whether five senators, including Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, accepted too many free meals from lobbyists this year, an inquiry that could lead to clearer gift-giving rules.

The Legislative Ethics Board’s staff started compiling information about the five last week in response to a citizen complaint, according to the board’s attorney. The board is expected to discuss the case at a regularly scheduled private meeting in September.

The case centers on a vague provision in state ethics law that allows officials to accept gifts of food or drinks on “infrequent occasions.”

The Associated Press reported in May that some lawmakers had accepted dozens of meals during the four-month regular legislative session. AP identified Sens. Doug Ericksen, Steve Litzow, Joe Fain, Mike Hewitt and Mark Schoesler as the most frequent recipients.

Several weeks later, a Seattle resident alleged in a formal complaint that those meals violated the “infrequent” standard.

If the board agrees, it can fine the lawmakers. But another potential outcome, board members say, is a new set of rules clarifying the law.

“I think it’s an important duty of the ethics board to provide guidance to legislators to help them comply with the law,” said state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who has served on the board for six years.

Outgoing Chairman David Draper said it isn’t clear what the board will do.

Regardless, this could be a major case for the board, which receives only a few complaints a year and rarely hands down fines.

But it is also could prove difficult. Gifts are tough to track because lobbyists make paper reports that are often incomplete.

In addition, lobbyists often report that all lawmakers attending a dinner consumed an equal slice of the tab — even if one ordered a steak while another got a salad.

Some lawmakers say lobbyists have reported paying for their meal when they only had a glass of water or even canceled at the last minute.

Two senators named in the complaint, Ericksen and Schoesler, defended their meals as opportunities to see constituents they couldn’t see during the workday.

“Is it an imperfect system? Probably,” said Ericksen, R-Ferndale. “Is it a system that violates the trust of the public or is corrupting legislators? I don’t think so.”

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.

Ericksen and Schoesler also questioned the motivations behind the complaint because it named only the top five recipients in the AP’s analysis — all Republicans.

The sixth highest, not named in the complaint, was Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina, who reportedly got $1,041 in meals.

Still, Schoesler said he welcomes a potential law clarification. “The whole thing probably could use some looking at and updating,” he said.

The Seattle resident who filed the complaint, 65-year-old salesman Richard Hodgin, said he, too, hopes that is the outcome.

Hodgin said he complained after reading the AP story and becoming upset at lawmakers for accepting free meals while making budget decisions that hurt the poor.

“I think it’s just absolute hypocrisy,” he said. “I want them to crack down on this so in the future it doesn’t happen again.”

Comments

CindyGG 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Hewitt should just grow his own food.

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paco1234 8 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm not a conservative but going after Mike Hewitt for this is ridiculous. I bet that the gains from the networking on such lunches outweighted the money spend by far. I recall similar accusations when pharmaceutical companies used to bring top medical experts to town, dinner included for us doctors and spouses. We were smart enough to detect and discard biases on the presentations The benefits from lessons learned, and the camaraderie ensued was wonderfull! Not anymore!

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downhillracer 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Gains, such as supporting the denial of civil rights? This isn't a conservative vs. liberal issue. No one is "going after" Hewitt, he is the subject of an investigation along with 4 of his peers. Rules are rules, let's get them defined with clarity.

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paco1234 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Agree...let the Ethics Board proceed as planned!

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Myinput 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I totally agree. How ridiculous.

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jubilado 8 months, 4 weeks ago

I have to disagree with Paco. The rule says that legislators can accept food of drinks only on "infrequent" occasions. His total of gratuitous meals came to $1,228. That is quite a few meals and doesn't equate to "infrequent" in my mind. Legislators are different than doctors because they make the laws and I don't want them to feel beholden to this or that group. I personally don't want Senator Hewitt chowing down with ALEC, for example, unless I know about it. If he is going to accept free food and drinks from lobbyists I would like him to report the date of the meal, the amount, and who paid the bill on his legislative report he sends out to his constituents. I think this might make the free meals more "infrequent."

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PearlY 8 months, 3 weeks ago

$1,228 over four months works out to be about $71 a week. At a sit-down restaurant that will buy you, what, maybe two or three lunches or a dinner and a half? Out of 21 meals per week, that's between 7% and 14% of your meals. I'd call that infrequent and also paltry, compared to the massive amounts of money contributed to campaigns by unions and business associations.

If goverment didn't control so much of the available supply of money, it would be less of a temptation for corruption and vote-buying. Want more honest government? Make it smaller.

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namvet60 8 months, 4 weeks ago

I agree - let the ethics committee investigate and then how about investigating the campaign contribution from the Teachers Union of $850,000.00 to the Governor's race. I'm sure that $850,000.00 will get a lot ears than a few free meals to a Senator.

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jubilado 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Nam Vet—So, what's your point? You wouldn't expect a union to give money to a Republican running for governor would you? Republicans get red in the face and scrunch up their foreheads when the word “union” is mentioned. It's legal to give money in campaigns, if the rules are followed. The Republican Governor's Association gave Rob McKenna $11.38 million in 2012. Finally, and apropos of nothing much, I find it interesting that Cathy McMorris Rodgers biggest single campaign donor was Money Tree which charges usurious rates for pay day loans. As you say, we will wait for the Senate Ethics Committee to make a ruling.

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downhillracer 8 months, 3 weeks ago

"namvet" doesn't have a point, he's just trolling between sips of tea, as usual.

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namvet60 8 months, 3 weeks ago

jubilado - I don't think that it is a republican-democrat issue, if you read the article they are all doing the meals. Some just get more invites than others and the investigation should happen. My point being is that I don't believe "any" Unions should dole out members money without a super majority vote. Members dues are dealt with the same as Social Security, union leaders and politicians think that just because they hold that position they think that there concerns are first and the constituents or members concerns are second. I don't agree with that synopsis. I talked to a couple of teachers and they did not have any knowledge of money being taken out of there funds and given to a political party. They inquired of there union rep and was told not to worry about it (great answer).

It is rather interesting that you bring the Governor's Assoc and the company Money Tree into the post but they are of the private sector with the only backlash would come from there stockholders. Big difference, don't you think?

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NewInWW 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I'd support a super majority vote of union members before political contributions were made by a union, so long as there was also a super majority vote of shareholders before political contributions were made by a corporation.

Anything that takes money, and vote purchases, out of politics is good, but it needs to be even handed.

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namvet60 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree but there are two big differences between the two entities. One has revenue coming in from profitablity and the other only has revenue coming in from dues from the members of that group. When your taking the hard earned money of members and throwing that money into a campaign fund the return is only attributable to the round robin of scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. If that candidate lost that money would have gone nowhere. But with banking on the winner you may have hit the jackpot if it is possible. I just have a problem with contributions being used on the unknown and throwing it in the fan and hoping there is a large return. Working in Nevada for many years I wouldn't suggest taking your life savings and betting it on the crap table.

Now I also agree on the corporations but there is a totally different makeup and if your not comfortable with the direction of the company you have a rough road to change the board of directors that pay that CEO a golden balloon of millions of dollars for bringing it to a 2% profit for a couple of years. I would rethink my investment and more than likely be calling my broker.

Have a good day!

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Myinput 8 months, 3 weeks ago

No thanks on any union! Get rid of unions - they are costing us all money.

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