Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ousted Pombo Signs on With Anti-Enviro PAC/WEST

Well, look who's coming to dinner!
Former Rep. Richard Pombo of California announced he accepted a job with an Oregon lobbying and public relations firm that specializes in Western resource issues.

The company's clients include the Save Our Species Alliance, which supported Pombo's unsuccessful efforts to rewrite the Endangered Species Act. Those attempts spurred environmental groups to pour money into the campaign of wind energy engineer Jerry McNerney, a Democrat who defeated him in November.

In the Northwest, Pombo was cast as a villain by some environmentalists, but was a champion to critics of federal regulations. For several years in Congress, he blocked creation of a new106,000-acre protected wilderness area, known as the Wild Sky Wilderness.As chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo demanded that some of that land remain open to activities like motorized recreation. With Pombo out and Democrats controlling Congress, the wilderness plan has been revived.
We can only be thankful that Pombo will be based in Sacramento, and that he claims he will not be actively lobbying Oregon officials to advance the cause of "property rights." But make no mistake, Pombo is formally uniting with the very front groups and "natural resource" industry shills who have driven efforts like the Healthy Forests Act and the assault on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as everyone's favorite environmental lamb, Artic drilling.

What is PAC/WEST? Headed by Paul Phillips, an Oregon uber-insider whose resume' includes the state legislature, aide to former goobernor Vic Atiyeh and Nike executive, the lobbying firm has become the repository of astroturf groups like "Save our Species Alliance (SOSA)" and "Project Protect," both of which have been described by Tim Wigley (the Executive Director of PAC/WEST) as "grassroots organizations," but which were more simply PR campaigns to advance the the Healthy Forest and ESA projects. According to Environmental Science and Technology Magazine, Wigley appears to have flat-out lied about his activities with Project Protect:
When asked, Wigley shied away from disclosing who financially backs SOSA and who funded Project Protect, saying Project Protect “was a grassroots organization.” He added, “I am not a lobbyist. I think this line of questioning is misleading.”

Project Protect was registered as a nonprofit in April 2003 by Wigley at Pac/West Communications. According to federal records, Wigley became the group’s lobbyist and coordinated his work with the Bush Administration until the project disbanded in 2004, after the 2004 presidential race. In 2003, the address for Project Protect was a MailBoxes Etc. store in Portland, Ore., but the following year, the address changed to the offices of American Forest Resource Council (AFRC).

AFRC’s president, Tom Partin, said the council’s members weren’t really involved in Project Protect, which he said was just a PR campaign coordinated by Wigley to pass the Healthy Forests legislation. [emphs mine]
As for SOSA, Wigley was named the "campaign director" for that project, which was incorporated by Steve Quarles--yet another prominent timber industry lobbyist, whose industry-paid musings on resource management have tended to end up in bills offered by Republicans seeking to erode environmental regulation. And if you've followed the chain so far, we can close the circle by noting that one of those bills was the one to weaken the ESA...championed by none other than Richard Pombo. Pombo liked Wigley's work so much, he recommended Wigley receive an award for his work on Healthy Forests. When Pombo's re-election came up in 2006, PAC/WEST returned the favor by helping sponsor a campaign event for the California Wilsonville. Lots of Pombo-district voters summering in Wilsonville, hanging out at Costco and riding the go-karts at Bullwinkle's, I guess?

So what's the impact to Oregon from Pombo's hiring, other than giving Oregon bloggers another chance to cluck their tongues at the revolving, incestuous door between Congress and industry lobby groups? The truth is that this group of folks is intimately tied to organizations that routinely lavish money on our state political processes, particularly Republican candidates for office. Project Protect, which seemed to disappear after the 2004 elections, churned out almost $3mil in advertising for its cause, according to IRS reports from 2003 and 2004 {both pdf}--chunks of which made its way into Oregon media outlet accounts prior to the 2004 elections.

Wigley's former position as President of the Oregon Forest Industries Council showcased his ability to raise big money from resource industries, and funnel it to state Republican causes. In 2004 the Council distributed over $300,000 in Oregon for the general election {pdf, scroll to document page 65}. Some of it went to Democrats like Senate President Peter Courtney, but most was directed at people or funds such as Chuck Burley ($35K), Karen Minnis and Jim Wright ($20K each), Al Shannon and Ron Sunseri ($15K each), Alan Brown and Linda Flores ($12K each), and the GOP Leadership Fund ($45K), Majority PAC ($15K) and Speaker's PAC ($5K).

The largesse continued in 2006 {pdf} as another $300,000 flowed into candidate coffers, including such big winners as Jim Torrey ($25K), Minnis ($20K plus another $10K into the Speakers PAC), Wayne Scott and Ted Ferrioli ($15K each), and even guys like Billy Dalto ($10K) and Dom Biggi ($5K).

If Pombo's not going to lobby (itself an uncertain promise, given the historic lack of honesty on that subject from this crowd), what will he do? Use his cache' as a former Congressman to squeeze money from the industry and help funnel it to sympathetic causes and legislators, one imagines. California's gain (by denying him re-election in 2006) looks to be Oregon's loss. Turns out Californians don't actually have to move here to fuck up our state; it appears Pombo can continue his assault on Oregon's environment by telecommuting. Aren't we lucky!

Update, 3:30--
The Contra Costa Times has a more filled-out story than the original link I posted from the Seattle Times, with a lot of the same information from EST magazine but in a more objectively written context...