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Editorial: Lawmakers should ban campaign fundraising prior to special sessions

Last week, I filed a bill to prohibit legislators from raising campaign funds on the eve of a special session. It’s a loophole that should be closed.

Today the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin published an editorial agreeing with me:

State lawmakers returned to Olympia last week for a special session — some of them with their campaign war chests newly restocked. And, as a result, some of the votes taken as the House and Senate approve the state budget could feel tainted.

In politics, as in life, perception is often reality. When campaign contributions are collected just prior to voting it often looks bad.

This is why state law now prohibits legislators and other state elected officials from collecting campaign cash 30 days before a regular legislative session and while the Legislature is in session.

But that law does not apply to the days between the end of a regular session and the start of a special session.

The Legislature’s regular session ended April 26 (although lawmakers left the Capitol a few days earlier because it was clear overtime was on the agenda).

The governor delayed the start of the special session four days to give the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-led House an opportunity to collect themselves, cool down and, perhaps, find a way to compromise on the contentious issues.

The fact that campaign cash was raised during that time is concerning.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, introduced legislation to ban lawmakers and statewide elected officials from fundraising 15 days before the start of a special session.

The proposal has merit.

Stokesbary, in an interview published in The News Tribune of Tacoma newspaper, said he trusts that his colleagues’ votes aren’t swayed by campaign contributions from lobbyists. Yet, he added, it gives the appearance of impropriety when lawmakers can accept donations the day before they return to Olympia to vote on legislation.

“We need to have the people’s confidence and their trust,” Stokesbary said. “By not raising money the day before the special session begins, I think that’s one way to show them we’re representing them instead of lobbyists.”

His point is well-made.

It’s the same reason lawmakers imposed the 30-day period for not collecting campaign dollars prior to a regular session. Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is essential to keeping the public’s trust.

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