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Transparency in the Governor’s Office

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the salary of one of Governor Inslee’s policy advisors is being paid for by a DC-based nonprofit organization.

Why is this wrong? After all, it could be argued that this arrangement is actually saving taxpayer money. But the problem is, it’s unclear who this advisor really works for—the governor, or the nonprofit group paying his salary. We are (rightly) concerned with the campaign contributions a politician receives, because we want to make sure that the politician, once elected, will still represent us and not his/her campaign donors. But elected officials can currently shortcut the disclosure process entirely and peddle influence by soliciting outside funding for his/her official employees.

In response to this revelation about the Governor’s office, I introduced House Bill 2926 in the Legislature, which was recently highlighted by The News Tribune:

State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, an Auburn Republican who introduced the transparency measure Wednesday, said he believes the public should have an easier way to find information about government positions funded by outside groups.

Stokesbary’s bill would require the governor’s office, the Legislature and other state agencies and elected officials, to release information through the state’s Public Disclosure Commission about staffers whose salary is paid for with money from an outside entity. The PDC typically tracks campaign spending and lobbying in Washington.

That information would include the name of the employee, what their work centers on, their salary and the name of organization funding the position.

If a nonprofit is paying for the staffer, disclosure of the organization’s top 50 donors — and any donor who gave more than $50,000 to the group in the last two years — would be required.

My idea is to apply the same framework to the outside financing of state employee salaries that we use for campaign contributions. In other words, instead of outlawing the practice, the office receiving outside funds should disclose the relationship to the PDC and let the public judge for themselves whether its a creative attempt to stretch taxpayer dollars or an improper effort to buy influence.

Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, said Wednesday he is concerned about outside organizations paying the salary of someone within the governor’s office.

“Where do their loyalties lie? Do they lie with the people of the state or do they lie with that organization?” said Nixon, a Kirkland City Councilman and a Republican.

“I think (Stokesbary’s) bill makes a solid argument that we should understand who is trying to influence public policy,” Nixon said. “We do that through campaign-finance reporting. We do that through lobbyist reporting.”

You can read the entire article at http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/politics-government/article196484929.html.

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