It’s disappointing to report that bipartisanship broke out in Olympia this week! Senate Republicans and House Democrats quietly aligned to allow strong ethics legislation to quietly fail in each chamber.
My legislation-–crafted in partnership with Attorney General Bob Ferguson and introduced for a second year–would have created a one year ‘cooling off period’ before lawmakers and senior government officials could leave public service and become paid lobbyists. The bill has overwhelming support from the public and editorial boards statewide.
The public’s confidence in the integrity of government is not a irrelevant, trivial side note to the health of our democracy. Our state prides itself on campaign, lobbyist, financial and budget disclosure. Yet on this issue–ensuring there is a clear line between public service and private interests–-seems to be a blind spot for lawmakers despite the intrinsic connection in the public’s mind.
I introduced this legislation because I was deeply troubled in my previous role as chair of the House Finance Committee when senior government officials and legislative colleagues would complete public sector work on a Friday and return to work on Monday as a paid lobbyist.
How long had those negotiations been underway? What information was inadvertently shared? I impugn no individual in this charge. I criticize the institution of government with a tone-deaf failure to see the discomfort of this unsteady ethical line.
We know how we can better define the line between public service and the private interests. This bill would have helped our state achieve that goal. The post-public service employment limits our state already has in place are a good starting point, however, we can do better to create greater transparency, protections and accountability in the area of government ethics.
A 12-month cooling off period is a reasonable length of time to consider and would create a large enough wedge to effectively slow down our state’s current revolving door. Despite having the support of many editorial boards across the state, from Spokane to Everett, and from Olympia to Wenatchee. From Vancouver to Seattle, we had unanimous support and we heard their message loud and clear.
On the record, no one is satisfied with the grade that our state recently received from The Center for Public Integrity, and neither should our taxpayers. Our state received an overall grade of D+ in the 2015 State Integrity Investigation. In individual categories, our state earned a grade of D- for Legislative Accountability. In most classrooms the grade of a D+ or D- would not pass muster.
Why should the State of Washington continue to accept an all-but-failing system and not attempt to strengthen our relatively weak post-employment restrictions? Off the record, clearly too many believe it would hinder future job prospects or restrict options.
It’s only a 12 month line of division and yet the payoff for the public is exponential.
Our state would not, of course, have been the first to adopt legislation of this type. The federal government has adopted a cooling off period and more than 33 other states across the country have enacted similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
This bill is not meant to deter former legislators or others from moving on and making a living elsewhere. It is meant to ensure that lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, and other senior staff are not placed into situations where information they were privy to in a previous job can help influence the outcome of their new position. It is meant to build confidence that there is, in fact, a clear distinction between public service and private interests. We can not make that claim today.
I appreciate and respect the work of Attorney General Ferguson and will continue to partner with him until we pass this essential legislation.
We are so much more than what we’ve become.
Reuven Carlyle (D-36) is a Washington State Senator. This piece originally appeared on his blog.