Politics Blog

UPDATE: CH2M Hill: Donation to Conservation Voters unrelated to coal

CH2M Hill's northwest government affairs director, Roger Flint, gave me the story behind the firm's $1,000 donation to Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund, as listed on the website of the Public Disclosure Commission. 

The donation is strictly speaking a political donation but wasn't given for political reasons, Flint said.

He emphasized that the money had nothing to do with coal and everything to do with transportation.

CH2M Hill paid for a table and an event on May 23 sponsored by Washington Conservation Voters that was about transportation funding options. CH2M Hill's lead transportation person on the west coast decided to attend the event to be in the know on transportation funding, for the benefit of the firm's clients. Though it was an event put on by an advocacy group, it had some big guns in attendance: the state's secretary of transportation and the director of Sound Transit included.

The firm is politically neutral overall, Flint said. When it comes to donations to political groups or individuals, "we just want to be engaged enough to be involved in conversations that are important to us," he said.

Transportation is a different group within CH2M Hill from the one working on the coal terminal environmental study. It's still the same company, Flint acknowledged.

If Flint had known about the event at the time, he might have alerted company officials that Washington Conservation Voters is interested in things besides transportation -- specifically coal.

"Unfortunately this person (the head of transportation in the west) didn't see anything of political interest at all except for transportation funding," Flint said.

(What follows is the original post, before Flint's phone call.)


One of the donors to Washington Conservation Voters' political action committee this year was CH2M Hill, the firm that is developing the environmental impact statement that will outline options for the Cherry Point coal terminal and environmental mitigations. 

Washington Conservation Voters has asserted itself as the biggest player so far in the Whatcom County Council elections.

It has spent $153,000 to get Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer elected. Those four, according to WCV, oppose the SSA Marine coal terminal proposed for Cherry Point.

In reality, as I blogged about earlier today, these four candidates and their four conservative opponents (Bill Knutzen, Kathy Kershner, Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke, respectively) neither support nor oppose the terminal, or don't dare say so if they do. The council in the next several years will cast votes on two permits SSA Marine needs to construct the terminal.

Be that as it may, WCV Executive Director Brendon Cechovic stands by flyers distributed this week that claim the four candidates are anti-coal. The organization knows the hearts of these candidates, he says, even if they don't say publicly their thoughts on coal.

It's clear that WCV's goal is to see the coal terminal project derailed. We find it interesting, therefore, that the firm charged with putting together the environmental report is a WCV supporter. SSA Marine is paying CH2M Hill for the work on the environmental study. CH2M Hill just a few months ago gave $1,000 to Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund.

CH2M Hill appears on WCV's list of donors in a June 24 Public Disclosure Commission report.


Political advocates often make a point of saying their side's donations are local, while their opponents are being funded by large out-of-state interests. There's been some talk of that in this council election, after a Western Washington University professor complained to the PDC that BNSF and Pacific International Terminals gave $40,000 to the state Republican Party, which then -- professor Todd Donovan asserts -- funneled a fraction of that down to the four conservative candidates and the county GOP.

But with Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund outspending all players, it's worth noting where it gets its money from. The $1,000 from CH2M Hill is peanuts compared to some donors to the PAC.

The Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund's two largest contributions in this election cycle came from out of state. The League of Conservation Voters, which gave $150,000 to WCV Action Fund, is based in Washington, D.C. Also giving $150,000 to WCV Action Fund was Nextgen Climate Action Committee of Sacramento, Calif.

The next eight largest donations (not necessarily largest donors -- I was just looking at top donations) are all from western Washington outside Whatcom County. Six of the eight list addresses in Seattle. The other two are from Medina (high-end Bellevue) and Eastsound. 

You can review the donations to Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund here.