Politics Blog

Conservation group spends $93K to help progressive county candidates

Hot off the Public Disclosure Commission website is a report showing that Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund, the political-action arm of Washington Conservation Voters, spent $93,303 to back four Whatcom County Council candidates: Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer.

This was the first shot fired in what some have predicted will be big-money battles for seats on the County Council. Luke Russert, somewhat precipitously, suggested "millions" of dollars would be funneled to the four races.

Browne, Buchanan, Mann and Weimer, all endorsed by the county Democrats, are running against (respectively) Bill Knutzen, Kathy Kershner, Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke.

By "first shot fired," I mean to say that the political action committee's donation was the first independent expenditure in any of the races. Independent expenditures do not go to the candidates or their campaigns but rather directly to the service being paid for. While single donations to candidates can be no more than $900, independent expenditures have no limit.

Washington Conservation Voters is working for the benefit of the four men's campaigns but separately and independently from them, as Brendon Cechovic emphasized for me in an interview earlier today. Cechovic is executive director of Washington Conservation Voters.

As the PDC report outlines, The $93,303 (recorded as equally divided among the four candidates) purchased "field canvassing services" through Terra Strategies ($59,603), "printing services" from Moxie Media ($5,700) and "polling services" from Fairbank Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates ($28,000).

The poll asked voters about the candidates and about a host of issues relevant to the County Council. The poll results are for in-house use only and aren't shared with the public or (keeping in line with independent-expenditure rules) the campaigns, Cechovic said.

Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund may come back and spend more for these candidates, but it is not likely to buy TV advertising, Cechovic said.

"TV is real expensive, and it's not that impactful," he said. Instead, the PAC paid for canvassers to knock on doors in the county.

"So much of campaigning is TV and talking points, but nothing beats having good old  conversations," Cechovic said.

We are almost one-tenth of the way to Russert's "millions." With five weeks to go before Election Day, maybe we will get there. Russert was right about one thing: What drove this dollop of independent-expenditure money to the County Council races was coal. Cechovic confirmed this in our interview.

"We're trying to be responsive to our membership, to what the public in huge numbers says, 'Please help with.'"

This post was corrected about 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7, to give the correct spelling of the name of Washington Conservation Voters Executive Director Brendon Cechovic.