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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State officials couldn’t become lobbyists as soon as they leave

The Legislative Building is viewed in a light morning fog through the columns of the Temple of Justice, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., on opening day of the Washington Legislature. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Ryan Blake The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Some former state elected officials and senior staffers would need to wait a year before they could become lobbyists, under a House bill that tries to restore public faith in government.

The proposal, which received a hearing Wednesday in the State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, would dissuade senior policy makers from “cashing in” to become paid lobbyists, said Rep. Mike Pellicciotti, D-Federal Way, the prime sponsor.

“The amount of time it takes for an elected official like myself to become a paid lobbyist is the amount of time it would take for me to empty out my office in my car and come back and lobby the person that just replaced me in that office,” Pellicciotti said.

The bill would keep former elected state officials, including legislators, and certain senior policy makers from taking lobbyist and other advisory positions for one year. Other lower ranking staff would be restricted from lobbying former employers.

About 1,000 employees would qualify under the bill, Assistant Attorney General for Open Government Nancy Krier said. She did not have an estimate for the number of former public officials turned lobbyists.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Pouslbo, said she does not know any officials who have become lobbyists. She did acknowledge she was a lobbyist for 11 years before taking office.

“I did it backwards. I became a lobbyist and then became poor when I became a representative,” Appleton said.

The state should be mindful of public perception, Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, said.

“I think it’s important we avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest as well as actual conflicts of interest,” Hudgins said.

The Center for Public Integrity gave Washington a D-plus grade in a 2015 state integrity investigation. The grade was good enough to rank eighth in the nation, however.

Some committee members suggested the bill was too lenient and suggested the waiting period should be raised to two years. Former federal officials may not accept paid lobbyist positions for five years after leaving public office.

Waivers would be available in some cases for former officials if there is no conflict with the state’s interest. Lobbyists would have to disclose information about their employment within 14 days of taking a new job. The disclosure requirement lasts for one year after leaving public service and cannot be waived.