COUNTY COMMISSIONERS ‑- LOBBYING ‑- PUBLIC OFFICERS ‑- PUBLIC FUNDS.
It is not illegal for the executive secretary of the Washington State Association of County Commissioners to act as a lobbyist during legislative sessions, notwithstanding the fact that his salary is paid from public funds.
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March 24, 1953
Honorable Tom A. Durham
Bellingham, Washington Cite as: AGO 51-53 No. 507
You have requested an opinion in the form of a query as to whether it is illegal for the Executive Secretary of the Washington State Association of County Commissioners to act as a lobbyist at the legislative session when his salary is paid from public funds.
Our answer to this question is "no."
We base this answer upon an examination of RCW 36.32.340-36.32.360, derived from chapter 188, Laws of 1939, which provides, in part, that the County Commissioners may, for the purpose of effecting coordination of the joint programs, designate the Washington State Association of County Commissioners as a coordinating agency in execution of the duties imposed. The purpose of the Act is set forth in section 1 and declares it is a public necessity for the coordination of county administration programs, especially in the fields of highway and social security, and "is hereby recognized."
RCW 36.32.340 provides, in part, that one of the duties of said coordinating program is preparation of a report to the Governor and the legislature. The [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] presence of the Executive Secretary in Olympia during the legislative session is a necessity to facilitate carrying out the purposes of the Act. It is within the purview of the Act that in order to carry out specific purposes for which the organization was formed, its Executive Secretary or legal representative attend the session of the legislature to prepare and formulate the activities of the several 39 counties through this coordinating agency‑-the Washington State Association of County Commissioners.
The fact that the Executive Secretary is paid a salary and necessary expenses through public funds does not make this action illegal. Further, that the Executive Secretary may be what is termed a "lobbyist" would not of itself make the action illegal for a lobbyist has been defined in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary as a person who addresses or solicits the members of a legislative body in the lobby or elsewhere, as before a committee, with intent to influence legislation. The purpose of the Act permitting the establishment of a coordinating agency for the better presentation of information to the Governor and the legislature necessitates a representative of the association being at the session "lobbying."
The constitutionality of the levying of millage for the support of the Washington State Association of County Commissioners was passed upon by our Supreme Court in the case of State ex rel. Cruikshank v. Baker, (1940) 2 Wn. (2d) 145. In this case the Court said:
"We are also of the opinion that the legislature has the power to provide that the several counties, acting through their boards of county commissioners, assist in the coordination of certain administrative functions, as part of a state‑wide [[statewide]]program, and to provide for the payment of such services as the commissioners may deem necessary, within the limits set forth in the act, to carry out this program. The act in question recognizes the public necessity of coordinating certain administrative functions of the several counties, for the benefit of the individual counties and the state generally."
The court further, in State ex rel. Cruikshank v. Baker, supra, at page 154, said:
"The legislature, having the powers above specified and having recognized in the act in question the public necessity of coordinating certain county administrative programs, especially in the field of highways and social security, had the power to authorize [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] the county commissioners of the several counties to take such action as by them deemed necessary to carry out this state‑wide [[statewide]]program, where such program would be of benefit not only to the individual county, but to the state at large; to authorize such commissioners to designate the association as a coordinating agency in carrying out the duties imposed by the act; and to authorize the levy of a tax to pay for such services."
Therefore, it is our considered opinion that with the legislative intent as set forth in chapter 188, Laws of 1939, with the interpretation of the statute by the Supreme Court, and with the need of necessary personnel to carry out the purposes of the Act, the presence of the Executive Secretary during the legislative session at Olympia, with his salary and expenses being paid out of public funds, is merely a necessary implement in carrying out the purposes and intents of the Act.
Very truly yours,
BERNARD G. LONCTOT
Assistant Attorney General