WA lawmaker plans hiatus from think tank job to comply with ethics rules

By: - October 27, 2023 5:02 pm

Washington State Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima (Photo courtesy of Legislative Support Services)

A Yakima state lawmaker appeared Friday to satisfy concerns of an ethics panel so he can continue working for the Washington Policy Center without violating any conflict-of-interest laws.

Republican Rep. Chris Corry became director of the conservative think tank’s Center for Government Reform in May.

When he got the job offer, Corry asked the Legislative Ethics Board to review the duties to see if “appropriate safeguards” were in place to ensure he complied with the state’s Ethics in Public Service Act

The board concluded in a June advisory opinion he had not met that standard.

“Even with the protections agreed to by the [Washington Policy Center], they are insufficient to alleviate the per se conflict of interest that exists,” the panel of legislators and citizens wrote.

That meant Corry could face an investigation and punishment by the board if he kept both posts.

But board members pivoted Friday after Corry informed them his think tank duties would be revised and he would take a leave of absence from the center when the legislative session begins in January. It is scheduled to last 60 days.

If Corry takes both of those steps, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, one of four lawmakers on the board, said he was “comfortable” and would see no reason to take any further action.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Corry said by phone afterwards. “I figured that once we clarified things, we would be fine.”

Washington Policy Center, headquartered in Seattle, describes itself as “an independent, non-profit think tank that promotes sound public policy based on free-market solutions.” In addition to government reform, it monitors other policy areas including education, environment, health care, transportation and worker rights.

The Legislative Ethics Board expressed concern in June that the group operated like a lobbying operation by attempting through its publications and testimony “to influence the passage or defeat” of legislation. Corry’s predecessor, for example, wrote and spoke often against the capital gains tax.

Board members said it would be a conflict if Corry was employed in the same capacity – with the same expectations – and served as a lawmaker at the same time.

Friday didn’t end the conversation. Members of the ethics board want to nail down commitments from Corry.

And he wants them to update their advisory opinion or issue something new making clear there’s no concerns with his job.

“I’d like them to say that you are good in your role,” he said.

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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.