Washington state prides itself on having a government that is honest and open. In 2015, it ranked 8th best in the nation based on a variety of criteria, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s scorecard. Even so, most citizens are aware of flaws in this rosy picture. The state attorney general and a state senator propose a fix for one of the worst of these ethical gaps.
AG Bob Ferguson and Sen. Reuven Carlyle want a one-year lobbying ban for former high-ranking state officials and disclosure of where former officials are employed after state service, if they are paid by an entity that does business with or lobbies the state. Lack of such a law resulted in a grade of D+ for the state in a recent assessment of rules governing disclosure, accountability and influence peddling.
“I wouldn’t accept a D+ grade from my kids, and the people of Washington shouldn’t accept it from their government,” Ferguson said in a press release last week.
Their proposal applies to statewide elected officials, legislators, and the bosses of executive branch agencies. Slightly different restrictions would apply depending on a person’s place in the hierarchy. Former elected officials, agency heads and senior-level staff would be required to disclose “when leaving state service if he or she receives compensation from an entity that does business with or lobbies the state.”
There are numerous examples of legislators and others leaving office to take jobs with industry groups and other entities whose task it is to influence state officials. This has produced a persistent feeling among citizens that an elected or appointed position in government is a gravy train — close to a guarantee of lucrative long-term employment. This breeds suspicion and resentment in the vast area of the state outside the Olympia “government-industrial complex.”
Legislators absolutely should require Washington state join the federal government and at least 31 states that require a “cooling off” period to slow the revolving door between the public and private sectors.