OLYMPIA — Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has proposed a bill to establish a one-year lobbying prohibition for former high-ranking state officials. The update to state ethics laws would also require disclosure of where former officials are employed after state service.
Under current law, many state officials and employees can leave a state job on Friday and start work on Monday as a lobbyist paid to influence former colleagues.
Congress and at least 31 states require a “cooling-off” period to slow this revolving door, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Federal laws were enacted as far back as 1872 restricting former public officials and employees from lobbying. In 2015, Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed a local measure requiring a three-year cooling off period before high-ranking former city officials and employees can be paid to lobby the city.
In 2015, Washington received a D+ for government accountability from the Center for Public Integrity on its annual scorecard assessing our rules governing disclosure, accountability and influence peddling. While Washington ranked better than most states (coming in 8th overall), a key factor in Washington’s low grade is the lack of a “cooling off” period before public officials can lobby their former co-workers. The Center described this revolving door as a “big ethical loophole” in Washington.
“The revolving door from public to private sector employment undermines public trust by giving the appearance of special access, unfair advantage, and conflicts of interest,” said Ferguson. “This overdue reform will promote government integrity and deter improper influence.”
In 2015, Ferguson requested similar legislation, House Bill 1136. This bipartisan measure did not pass, but can be considered again in the 2016 session. The bill was prime sponsored by Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D – Seattle. Carlyle was sworn into the Washington State Senate on Jan. 7, 2016, and swiftly sponsored Ferguson’s proposal on the same subject as Senate Bill 6258.
“A one-year ‘cooling off’ period is a responsible and modest middle ground that allows the public to feel confidence there are appropriate boundaries between government and special interests,” said Carlyle. “This is common-sense legislation that will lead us on the path to restoring public trust in government. I sponsored this legislation in the House last session and am proud to now sponsor it in the Senate.”
Currently, the Washington State Ethics Act contains some restrictions on post-state service employment. For example, an employee who personally participated in granting a state contract cannot take a job paid by that contract. Employees are prohibited from taking a job that is seen as a reward from a private entity trying to influence state government, and state employees are restricted from private employment that would require disclosing confidential state information. The Ethics Act, however, lacks the kind of “cooling off” period found in other states and the federal government.
Ferguson’s proposal to update the ethics law would:
- Establish a one-year “cooling off” period for elected officials, agency heads, and senior-level staff as follows:
- Apply to compensated activities and provide some limited exceptions, such as lobbying for another public entity; and
- Require disclosure from former elected officials, agency heads and senior-level staff when leaving state service if he or she receives compensations from an entity that does business with or lobbies the state.
As part of Ferguson’s commitment to enhancing government transparency, he also proposed Senate Bill 6171 and House Bill 2353 this session to increase penalties for violations of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act.
Learn more about the AGO legislative agenda here.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov