The following is from the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO:
BELLINGHAM (Sept. 11, 2014) — State Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) has once again been eating free meals. This time he has been billing these expenses to his campaign account, a fund predominantly supported by corporate donors. Between February and July, Ericksen ate out and billed it to his campaign contributors 30 times, totaling $1,003 worth of free meals. While some of the meals were out of town, 23 of the 30 were in Whatcom County, meaning these are not travel-related expenses.
“Our members earn their meals, and are not treated to free steak, drinks and golf by corporate sponsors,” said Mark Lowry, President of Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Nor do we, as leaders, expect our members to treat us to free lunches. They work hard, pay their dues and trust us to be careful with their money. I pay my own way in life and buy my own lunch when I talk business on behalf of the people.”
Last year, 16-year incumbent Sen. Ericksen made headlines as the legislator who had accepted the most free meals, free drinks and free golf games of any state legislator in Olympia during the legislative session in 2013, while also taking the full per diem pay from taxpayers intended for meals and expenses. As the Associated Press reported in, “Olympia Lobbyists pampering lawmakers with free meals:”
Ericksen had at least 62 occasions where he benefited from free meals, drinks or golf…. he also saw no problem with claiming a $90 per diem — paid by tax dollars — while also accepting free meals from lobbyists.
The Bellingham Herald reported that Sen. Ericksen has become the poster child for excess and the Legislative Ethics Board is cracking down on free meals from lobbyists to state legislators. Part of the problem is that he took the free meals from lobbyists and also took his full stipend for meals and travel from taxpayers on the same days he accepted the free meals — a practice known as double dipping.
In August, the Legislative Ethics Board proposed a rule that would limit meals provided by lobbyists to legislators to no more than 12 per year. Sen. Ericksen seems to have already found a loophole. The rule would not cover cases, like this, where lobbyists recommend to their corporate clients that donations be made to a legislator, and then those donations are used to buy meals or travel for the lawmaker.
“To turn around — while the ethics committee is deliberating — and start eating free meals on a corporate-funded campaign expense account shows that he just doesn’t get it,” Lowry said. “We want an ethical representative who wakes up every day thinking about how to bring jobs and transportation funding to Whatcom County, not someone just looking to score a free meal from someone else.”