SEATTLE -- Seattle mayoral candidate Ed Murray accepted free meals from lobbying firms who work with Comcast on 12 occasions over the first four months of this year—with a total estimated benefit of $250.
Murray, a prominent state senator, has been working over the last few days to distance himself from Comcast amid scrutiny of thousands of dollars the company and its officials have given to Murray’s campaign and groups supporting his candidacy. The Democrat called a news conference on Friday evening to address the issue.
Mayor Mike McGinn recently questioned Murray’s ties to Comcast, noting that the donations came at a time that the city was moving ahead with a public-private broadband network being developed in conjunction with Gigabit Squared, a company that develops high-speed Internet projects. Murray has said he wouldn’t disrupt the Gigabit project, and explained in a statement that his meetings with Comcast earlier this year were for an entirely separate issue—an overhaul of the state telecom tax law that was a Democratic priority and protected state tax revenues.
Murray said he had two dinners with Comcast and other telecom representatives about the need to pass the legislation.
“They were perfectly appropriate and in fact important and successful conversations,” Murray said.
Two lobbying firms—Rob Makin Consulting and Pierce Consulting Services—reported in documents that they were representing Comcast when they each took Murray in April to separate meals at the same high-end Olympia restaurant—the Waterstreet Cafe. Those same lobbyists also paid for the senator’s meals on several other occasions but reported that they were representing different clients at those meetings.
Over the first four months of this year, Murray accepted free entertainment or meals on 12 occasions totaling an estimated $250 from the Makin and Pierce firms. He’s not listed as receiving any meals directly from Comcast corporate lobbyist Rhonda Weaver over that time.
The meals typically occurred with other lawmakers present. If the lobbyists didn’t properly assign a specific meal value to Murray, The Associated Press calculated the value of the meal by dividing the total price in equal shares among the diners.
As Comcast has expanded its Voice over Internet Protocol phone service, the company faced uncertainty about whether or not it was supposed to collect taxes that targeted home landlines. Those lingering questions left both the company and the state with potentially large legal liabilities, so Comcast was working this year to shape an overhaul to how the state’s telecommunications were taxed.
Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat from Seattle who was the architect of the bill, said a variety of entities came together on a modernization that rewrote components of industry tax law. Comcast was not pushing so much for a specific solution as much as it just wanted some sort of consistent and fair solution, Carlyle said.
“The letter of the law was so archaic,” Carlyle said.
Comcast wasn’t alone in lobbying Murray, who has been serving as the minority leader in the Senate. In 12 other occasions that Murray accepted free meals, lobbyists reported that they were representing a broad set of organizations, such as the Washington Realtors, the state teachers’ union and the Washington Restaurant Association.