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Friday, December 13, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Shine light on lobbying

The Washington and Idaho legislatures could help bolster public trust by passing laws that curb immediate lobbying by former state officials.

Some form of “cooling off” laws are on the books in 31 states, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is urging the Legislature to pass a bill that was introduced in 2015.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said last year, “Come hell or high water we are going to fix the ‘Friday to Monday’ problem, where someone concludes their public service on a Friday and becomes a formal paid lobbyist on a Monday morning,”

It didn’t happen, and it didn’t take an apocalyptic event to block it. Just lawmakers who didn’t feel it was important enough.

Though Ferguson has renewed his call for legislation, we fear the urgency to act will wane as the New York Times investigation that sparked interest fades into history.

In 2014, the Times found that attorneys general were the targets of aggressive lobbying from companies hoping to tamp down government investigations into possible illegal business practices.

Attorneys generals would gather at exclusive resorts and interact with corporate lobbyists in relaxed settings. Sailing one day. Perhaps, golf the next. Emails obtained by the Times showed this access often paid off.

Months after departing as attorney general, Rob McKenna and his former top deputy began contacting Ferguson (his successor) on behalf of T-Mobile and Microsoft. Ferguson told the Seattle Times he didn’t dole out special treatment, but he acknowledged that the question of who has access to government was a legitimate public concern.

Hence, the bill that would target the appearance of impropriety.

Under HB 1136, top officials and top aides who become lobbyists would have to wait a year before using their connections to woo their former agencies. In addition, they would have to notify the state of their new job if it involves state business.

This would lessen the temptation to jump to the other side during disputes, and limit the appearance of insider deal-making.

Idaho has no pending “revolving door” legislation. In fact, its ethics laws are among the weakest in the nation. The state still doesn’t require its elected officials to provide detailed financial disclosures, which makes it more difficult to spotlight conflicts of interest.

Because Idaho is ruled by one party, it’s easier for its leaders to drop a veil over its activities. But opaque governing leads to more scandals in contracting and outsourcing. The public becomes more cynical, which makes it more difficult for honest brokers to achieve worthwhile goals.

The suspicion of dark dealing gnaws away at government. Slow the revolving door between public and private service, and voters will not have to wonder who will be working for them one day, and corporate patrons the next.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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