The Washington state Legislative Ethics Board has been discussing
how many meals a state legislator should be able to accept from
lobbyists and lobbyist-employers under the "infrequent" meals
exception in the state ethics code. The exception allows legislators
to accept food and beverage when their attendance is "related to the
performance of official duties" on "infrequent occasions." The board
has apparently never defined "infrequent."
It's About Perceptions
This discussion has some resemblance to the discussion of how many
angels can fit on the end of a pin. Once you believe that one angel
can fit on a pin, where do you stop? This is why many in the
government ethics world (including me) believe that officials should
not be accepting any meals from those seeking special benefits from
their government. It isn't because any particular official can be
"bought" by the price of a meal. It's about perceptions.
After all, the basic Washington state gift rule prohibits any gift
"if it could be reasonably expected that [it] would influence the
vote, action, or judgment of the officer or employee, or be
considered as part of a reward for action or inaction." I don't
think it is possible for an official to convince the public that a
restricted source wants to meet with her for any reason other than
to influence or reward her vote, action, or judgment.