OLYMPIA – Some legislators could accept free tickets to the U.S. Open golf tournament under a decision filed Tuesday by a state ethics board.
Legislative Ethics Board members agreed almost unanimously the $110 tickets are acceptable exceptions to state rules that cap gifts to legislators at a $50 value, ruling lawmakers wouldn’t attend the tournament primarily as spectators. Instead, they would tour the Chambers Bay Golf Course in Pierce County to learn about developments to the site, where more than 200,000 visitors are expected during the country’s biggest golf event.
“Legislators would be able after that time to stay around at the hospitality tent, and if they care to, perhaps watch some of the golfers,” ethics board attorney Mike O’Connell said at Tuesday’s hearing. “But approximately three hours would be devoted to other issues which Pierce County thought are important.”
With the free tickets, lawmakers could attend one day of the tournament in June and would have to take one of two site tours that the county plans to host. Al Rose, an attorney from the county executive’s office, told the Associated Press in February more than 20 lawmakers and possibly the governor will be invited.
The ethics board consists of four citizens, four lawmakers and a judge. It has addressed the issue of accepting free sporting event tickets before, ruling that lawmakers can’t accept such gifts without a business or work interest. In this case, the board determined a detailed agenda shows there would be legitimate discussions about legislative business, though lawmakers would have time to watch some of the tournament.
Separately, a bill that recently passed both chambers of the Legislature would broaden the definition of legislators’ “official duty” to include any activities that can be justified by the state constitution.
Ten states ban gifts to lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Washington is among 30 that put a monetary limit on acceptable gifts. Another 10 have no limits.
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