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Who Are the Real Fat Cats in Olympia?

On May 29th, 2013,  Mike Baker of the Associated Press published an article focused on the largesse of lobbyists towards our state political representatives in Olympia.  Within this article, State Senator Doug Ericksen apparently makes the top of this list.  While I do not support too much of anything, and support shining the light of truth on all politician’s, it seems to these citizen journalists that the AP could have given us better clarity.  With a little more effort, they could have given their story a lot more depth. Mike Baker states they combed through the records of “50 of the most active lobbyists”.   So who were these lobbyists?  What criteria was used to justify the “most active” description?  “Hundreds and hundreds of meals” may be poetic, but are we talking about 200 meals or 10,000 meals.  Mr. Ericksen is a new chair of a very important committee which handles more than just environmental issues.  It makes sense that people who have interests that are impacted by this committee would want to talk with him. How does this compare to the last chair of this committee?  Mr. Ericksen was treated by BP, a major employer from the county he represents. That isn’t surprising either. Usually articles such as these provide a graph so that the reader can visually understand the numbers being reported, but that is missing from this article.  And last but not least, the only unsullied legislator they could find in Olympia was a Democratic Representative? Really?  So, one should ask themselves if this story is really about the great concern over too much influence over our political representatives; or sour grapes over “symbolic language” being stripped from a pet piece of legislation.  Is it likely this article is more about an unhappy recipients of true government largesse, the Department of Ecology?  When a piece of reporting  has so many holes it looks like Swiss cheese it is time to dig a little deeper and try to get the rest of the story.  Links to the articles are provided, and  Senator Ericksen’s statement follows.   You decide.

~ Kris Halterman & Lorraine Newman

Herald Article on Ecology Funding AP article on WA State Lobbyists

Here is the Senator’s statement:

Senator_EricksenThank you for asking for more information with regards to the recent story in the newspaper about accepting food and meals from organizations while I am in Olympia. As you might expect, the newspaper article does not tell the entire story.

First of all, I am firmly committed to standing up for quality jobs in Whatcom County and being accessible to constituents. As an elected senator who lives in Olympia during the week, the  evening hours tend to be a good time to schedule meetings and meet with constituents. During the day we have committee hearings, senate floor votes, and short meetings in my office.

I have asked the reporters how they came up with their numbers and what events they included. They have not shared with me all of the information that they used for the article, but they did share some.

The reporting mechanism they use provides a rough measurement of how many events I attended during the past legislative session and does not provide an accurate dollar figure.  On some evenings in Olympia, I might attend two to four events to touch base with constituents so I can speak with them briefly and hear about their issues. At these events I may or may not eat any food. Even if I do not eat, the organization that sponsored the event will report my attendance and place a financial value based upon the overall cost of the event to them. These events normally happen between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm.

I try to attend these receptions when I have people from district who have traveled to Olympia or when the group is dealing with an issue that I am directly working on. These events then show up on the report you saw in the newspaper. Many of the other events I attended were those I was speaking at. Groups and associations come to Olympia and as Chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, they like to have me share my views on policy and what is happening. Sometimes I will eat dinner at these events and sometimes I will not. Regardless of whether I eat, the group will report my attendance as a dollar amount for the dinner. These dinners are often a fixed plate rate that they apply to me in reporting. Often there will be a reception prior to a dinner event at which I am speaking. If I arrive while the reception is going on, they will report me as being at the reception with a dollar amount and they will then report the dinner event separately. This will then be reported as two separate events. It is up to the group with regards to how they report this.

The newspaper article makes reference to one lobbyist who reported me 14 times during the session. This particular lobbyist represents the refinery industry in Whatcom County, a cellular telephone company (I chair the telecommunications committee) Costco, the veterinarians of Washington state, and several other groups. I have reviewed the records and found that about four of the reports involved me sitting down to a meal with him. The other reports involved a group reception or a dinner at which I was speaking, like those referenced above.

During the course of the legislative session, groups will travel from Whatcom County for meetings and when they invite me to a dinner or lunch event I do my best to attend. As Chairman of the Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications Committee and a the Senator from a district with two oil refineries, I have been meeting a lot with groups trying to stop massive tax increases on these good manufacturing jobs. Some of these meetings do involve a meal and often include people from district or from out of the Olympia area who are brought in to work on the issues.

I also make myself available to those who are trying to raise the taxes on the Whatcom County oil refineries, but since my position on the issue is very clear, they tend to not want to speak with me as often. I can understand how the newspaper article can create a false impression of what really happens in Olympia. As chairman of a committee this year, there have been more people wanting to meet with me on issues important to them and I do my best to make myself available. It is a lot of work and a lot of long hours.

I hope that my response provides some context to the newspaper article.

Senator Doug Ericksen 42nd District

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