Coal interests give more than $100K to 'Save Whatcom' for local elections

Posted by Ralph Schwartz on October 18, 2013 

Save Whatcom, a local conservative political group that says it works to protect "jobs and business growth," is poised to spend up to $160,000 to support the campaigns of four Whatcom County Council candidates and two Port of Bellingham candidates.

Save Whatcom was able to raise this much money after only two months in existence. Most of the money comes from coal companies, according to the Public Disclosure Commission's website.

The top two donors are Cloud Peak Energy, which mines Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and Global Coal Sales, which -- well, I think the name speaks for itself. They gave $50,000 each.

It was interesting to find a report saying that Steve Read, former head of export sales at Cloud Peak, took a job as executive VP of Global Coal Sales in May 2013.

The brief report, from Bloomberg Businessweek, said Read "was involved in developing (Cloud Peak's) Asia export business since early 2009."

Some of the names of the other big donors will be familiar:

Barbara and Corbin Robertson of Houston, Texas -- $32,000. Mr. Robertson is an executive at Quintana Minerals Corporation.

SSA Marine, prospective applicant for a proposed coal (and other commodities -- see below) terminal at Cherry Point -- $12,000. That coal, incidentally, will originate from the Powder River Basin.

Richard Donahue, a Bellingham financial planner -- $5,000

Saturna Capital Corp. of State Street, Bellingham -- $3,500

In all, Save Whatcom has 50 donors, according to the PDC. Everyone from Donahue on down is from Whatcom County (the Sedro-Woolley address is south Lake Whatcom).

"We'll accept donations from all legal entities that share our goals of jobs and business growth," said Kris Halterman, the political action committee's chairwoman.

Also named on Save Whatcom's registration form with the PDC are Lorraine Newman and Steve Moore. I only make a point of naming names because the Save Whatcom website did not include a list of committee members that I could find.

Halterman was specific when I said her organization had a lot of coal money -- she said two donors fit that description. The Robertsons, as representatives of Quintana Mineral, are into oil and natural gas.

UPDATE:*** Forbes has reported that Robertson sits on an enormous reserve of coal, too -- so let's include he and his wife's donations. ***

I would also include SSA Marine, which has a stake in the demand for coal in Asia and seeks to build the terminal at Cherry Point. *** So that's four coal-related donors at $144,000. ***

Total amount raised By Save Whatcom is $162,055.45.

The group started as a response to a resolution this year by the county Democrats calling for no new development of any kind on Cherry Point.

"We need to be able to have a megaphone here to promote jobs and business growth," Halterman said.

Virtually no expenses have been reported yet by Save Whatcom Treasurer Orphalee Smith, but there are plans to spend that money, Halterman said.

The money will pay for campaign flyers and phone calls. The six candidates Save Whatcom supports are, for the County Council, Ben Elenbaas, Kathy Kershner, Bill Knutzen and Michelle Luke. For Port of Bellingham, Ken Bell and Dan Robbins.

So Save Whatcom can take on the role played by Washington Conservation Voters, which is spending money outside individual campaigns to support progressive candidates. WCV has spent almost the same amount of money raised by Save Whatcom, $160,618.88, to get Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer elected.

The Save Whatcom flyers will not link the committee's candidates to coal, Halterman said. The flyers won't even mention coal.

Halterman prefers to refer to the Gateway Pacific Terminal as a bulk commodities terminal because, she said, coal might or might not be shipped from there.

"That (terminal) will be a huge asset for after -- if even coal gets exported out of there," Halterman said.

Save Whatcom's message is not about coal but is about jobs and business growth, Halterman emphasized.

But if one must know, the four Save Whatcom council candidates will be impartial judges when it comes to deciding on permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

"They'll give it the fair, open process it's supposed to get," Halterman said.

Sending coal to Asia, Halterman offered, is also a social issue. "It's all about poverty and people being able to survive" by having access to affordable energy, she said.







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