Despite Vow, Wash. Lands Chief Takes Timber Money
By John Ryan/KUOW
Fundraising for this November's elections is kicking into high gear. That means candidates are cozying up to people with money. Sometimes, elected officials even get friendly with the companies they regulate.
I’m standing outside the Two Union Building in downtown Seattle. Up on the 31st floor right now, there's a reception going on. It's in the offices of the Plum Creek Timber Company. No reporters allowed. It's a fundraiser for Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, with a special guest appearance by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. Suggested contributions range from one thousand to five thousand dollars.
Cohosts of the event are Washington Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and the Plum Creek and Weyerhaeuser Political Action Committees. Those are two of the timber companies that Goldmark regulates as head of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Goldmark canceled his appearance at the event at the last minute. His assistant said he was ill. Goldmark's relationship with the industry he oversees has changed since the Democrat first ran for commissioner six years ago.
Back then, Goldmark campaigned against the DNR's poor management of logging on landslide-prone slopes in southwest Washington.
Goldmark: "A lack of appropriate oversight, and I will change that. I will make sure that public health and safety is a very important component of approval of all timber harvest permits, particularly where there are steep slopes involved. [We we need to exercise that authority to make sure that downstream property owners and downstream lives are not at risk."
The state's timber industry spent some 700,000 dollars trying to keep Goldmark out of office. Goldmark attacked his Republican predecessor Doug Sutherland and his reliance on industry cash:
"Over half of his campaign money comes from the very industries that he's charged with regulating. I think that produces a distinct conflict of interest. I will not accept money from the industries that I'll be regulating."
Campaign finance records show Goldmark kept his pledge in 2008. But in his reelection bid in 2012, Goldmark took in at least $80,000 dollars from the timber industry, about 15 percent of his campaign funding.
Goldmark: "It's true, I pledged not to take any campaign contributions during the 2008 campaign. In 2012, I did not make such a pledge."
Ryan: "Do you see any problem with accepting contributions from industries that you regulate?"
Goldmark: "No, I do not. I'm proud of the fact I was supported by many, many different interest groups. Regardless of who supports me, I will continue to work for the public."
Many environmentalists backed Goldmark for office. But some have lost their enthusiasm since the deadly Oso landslide in March. A small portion of the no-logging area around that landslide zone had been clear-cut back in 2004. That was when Doug Sutherland was still the head of DNR. Environmentalists have wondered why Goldmark has dismissed any questioning of the role logging might have played in that landslide as inappropriate or even trying to exploit a tragedy.
Mitch Friedman says "he seems to be hinting that we shouldn't be concerned." Friedman is executive director of Conservation Northwest and a Goldmark campaign contributor.
Friedman: "If Commissioner Goldmark said, look, the relationship between logging and landslides is complicated, the history of Oso is complicated, but we're going to do our best to get to the bottom of it, and we're going to try to do our best to protect public safety, I think we'd all be fine with that."
It took the Department of Natural Resources about six years to get to the bottom of the 2007 landslides in southwest Washington. The agency completed the second of two studies of the slides last year.
That's five years after Goldmark made campaign hay of the slides in 2008.