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AGLO 1970 No. 072 - May 05, 1970
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington
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                                                                    May 5, 1970

 

 

 

Honorable W. S. Leckenby
State Representative, 31st District
9105 Fauntleroy Way S.W.
Seattle, Washington 98116

                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1970 No. 72

 

 

Dear Sir:

 

            You have recently asked for our opinion on two questions which, with your approval, we have paraphrased as follows: 

            (1) May a legislator who is a director of a nonprofit housing development corporation participate in the consideration of and vote on any bill pertaining to housing authorities at the state or local level without having a conflict of interest? 

            (2) If such a legislator-director acting in good faith votes on a bill pertaining to this subject and a question of conflict of interest is subsequently raised, could such a vote or participation in any way constitute grounds for revocation of the charter of the nonprofit housing organization upon the board of directors of which he served? 

                                                                     ANALYSIS 

            In so far as your first question is concerned, Article II, § 30 of the Washington State Constitution provides, in material part, that: 

            ". . .  A member [of the legislature] who has a private interest in a bill or measure proposed or pending before the legislature, shall disclose the fact to the house of which he is a member, and shall not vote thereon." 

            While this constitutional provision only goes to the matter ofvoting on the measure in which a legislator has a "private" interest, a somewhat broader prohibition, in the same vein, is contained in the Code of Ethics for Legislators which was recently adopted (in the form of joint rules) by the legislature in accordance with the provisions of § 6, chapter 150, Laws of 1967, Ex. Sess. (RCW 44.60.070). 

 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Section I (a) 1 of this code provides that: 

            "1. A legislator shall not vote on or influence legislation in committee or on the floor of either house, where he has a personal interest which is in conflict with the proper discharge of his duties." 

            However, as we view it, the question of whether either this rule or the constitutional provision would be violated in a given case is dependent upon all of the facts pertaining to that case; e.g., the nature of the legislator's private situation, the applicability of the particular provisions of the bill to persons or entities in the same class as is the legislator in his private capacity, etc.  Accordingly, the first question which you have posed does not lend itself to a generalized and all-inclusive answer, as a matter of law. 

            Furthermore, in view of the enactment of the new legislative ethics law ‑ chapter 150, Laws of 1967, Ex. Sess., ‑ the appropriate body to whom the details of the situation which is generalized by your first question should be submitted is the board of ethics of the house of representatives, as provided for in RCW 44.60.020 and 44.60.030.1

             With regard to your second question, we respond in the negative.  We can conceive of no legal theory under which the consequence of a violation of either Article II, § 30,supra, or the code of ethics' provision above quoted, would be an impairment of the continuing existence and viability of the corporate charter of a nonprofit corporation of which the violating legislator is a director ‑ even though it was by virtue of this corporate office that he was deemed to have had a "private interest" in the measure upon which he improperly voted.

 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you. 

Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL 

 Philip H. Austin
Assistant Attorney General

 

 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 

1/We note, upon reviewing the file which is attached to your opinion request, that it includes a carbon copy of a letter to the Board of Ethics requesting a formal ruling ". . . as to whether or not my ability to work for the passage of . . . [legislation] is in any way effected by my position with the Central Puget Sound Housing Development Fund."  Assuming that the original of this letter was sent to the Board of Ethics, you have already appropriately placed your question before the proper tribunal where the matter, presumably, is now pending.

 

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