How the West Is Won: Astroturf Lobbying and the "Wise Use" Movement

The term "wise use" comes from Gifford
Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, who used it to describe the
conservation movement. Pinchot chose words that implied balance, not to mention
a fundamental concern for the well-being of the environment. Today Pinchot's
term has been turned on its head, appropriated by a corporate-sponsored campaign
to roll back environmental protection in the West, where billions of dollars
ride on decisions about the use of government-regulated property.

This is the story of how the "wise use" movement--a coalition of
timber, mining, oil, and grazing interests--has skewed the debate over land use.
It is a tale of political contributions, well-connected lobbyists, and, most
important, corporate-financed grassroots organizing that has become a model for
kindred political operatives around the country. This is also the story of how
environmentalists in the state of Washington fended off development activists in
one key battle, providing some hope that real strength at the grass roots may
still be better than "astroturf" substitutes.


The public face of the development movement is the square-jawed
individualism that recently graced the cover of Time magazine. It is a
family version of the Marlboro Man--a movement that asks nothing more than to be
left alone, free of meddlesome government regulation. The pitch sounds
authentically American, rich with allusions to the spirit of the nation's
founding. Yet if you trace the development movement's lineage, you'll find its
roots not in the revolutionary ferment of the 1770s but in the corporate
resentment that was simmering two centuries later.

American environmentalism had its breakthrough in the 1970s, the decade that
witnessed not only the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency but also
the enactment of such measures as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. At the
state level and through the courts, environmentalists were also able to hold
corporations more accountable for the pollution they created and to stop the
overdevelopment of forests and wetlands. The movement's petition drives, ballot
initiatives, and other forms of door-to-door campaigning were vital to its

Not surprisingly, environmental laws were particularly controversial in the
West, where economic growth continued to depend on the development of natural
resources: timber in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington; coal, oil, and minerals in
Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Montana; grazing land and hydroelectric power
throughout the region. Many residents saw the new laws as the work of elite
eastern outsiders who didn't care about local prosperity; industry lobbyists saw
the laws as a threat to profits. This opposition helped blunt the environmental
charge, as did the arrival of the Reagan administration.

Still, even in the early Reagan years there was substantial political
support for environmentalists, so development interests set about building an
intellectual foundation to support a more sweeping rollback--an effort that
worked through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council
(ALEC). At universities across the country, a few conservative intellectuals
like Richard Epstein were already making the theoretical case for more expansive
interpretations of the Fifth Amendment, which protects citizens from government
seizure of property. Groups such as ALEC, which received significant funding
from the Coors Foundation and various development interests, were instrumental
in moving those ideas from the classroom to the legislatures, where the campaign
for "property rights" gained steam. The staff wrote sample "takings
laws"--laws that require government to compensate owners whose profit
potential was diminished by regulation--and forwarded them to sympathetic
officials in federal and state government. Industry-financed think tanks churned
out op-eds and briefing papers to bolster the case. Once dismissed as radically
conservative, the takings laws began to gain legitimacy.

Of course all the intellectual currency in the world wasn't going to do any
good if the voters perceived the takings laws and similar measures as attempts
to poison the air and water, so the developers took a page from the
environmentalists' playbook. In a series of articles for Logging Management
magazine, strategist Ron Arnold proposed that the developers put citizens,
not corporate spokesman, at the front of the parade. "Give them the money,"
Arnold advised resource companies at a meeting in 1988. "You stop defending
yourselves, let them do it, and you get the hell out of the way. Because
citizen's groups have credibility and industries don't."

Today the legacy of those efforts is the network of
activist anti-environmental organizations that litter the western political
landscape. Although these groups typically rely on donations from resource
companies and developers, they specialize in rallies, petition drives, even
T-shirt and bumper-sticker campaigns--anything that puts a workingman's face on
the developers' profit motive. With innocuous, populist-sounding names, these
organizations appeal directly to the economic frustration of blue-collar voters.

The appeal falls on receptive ears. Stories of environmentalist-inspired
injunctions against logging and mining operations have been well publicized,
making environmentalists a good scapegoat for slack times. The spotted owl
ordeal left many timber workers in the Northwest frustrated with government
intervention, particularly since attempts to limit the export of unmilled trees
never got far. But is regulation really what's killing western jobs? More likely
the real culprits are the forces that are fostering economic insecurity
everywhere else in the country: globalization, technological advances, and
reduced bargaining power of labor. (Weyer haeuser, a leading timber company in
Washington, gets 26 percent of its profits from exporting raw logs overseas.) Of
course the corporate-financed anti-environmental groups don't dwell on questions
about free trade, corporate profits, or executive salaries.

Typical of these organizations is People for the West!, which describes
itself as "a grassroots campaign supporting western communities." The
ongoing interest of these people is the preservation of an 1872 mining law that
gives mining companies cheap access to mineral-rich public land. In 1992 about
96 percent of the organization's $1.7 million budget came from corporate donors,
led by NERCO Minerals, Cyprus Minerals, Chevron, and Hecla Mining, according to
Audubon Society researchers. PFW!'s corporate members include such timber and
power companies as Boise Cascade, Potlatch, and Pacific Power and Light; the
group also includes cattlemen and woolgrowers associations, as well as mining
interests. The chairman of PFW!, Bob Quick, is the national director of state
legislative affairs for Asarco, a mining company.

While these groups don't exactly advertise their corporate sponsorship,
their close relationship with development companies provides crucial access to
workers. Companies have been known, for instance, to stuff payroll checks with
propaganda inserts from anti-environmental groups. The Oregon Lands Coalition, a
timber-dominated coalition, has used its newsletter to publish flyers labeled "PAYROLL
STUFFER" in bold typeface. In Montana, the Plum Creek timber company broke
state election law by stuffing paycheck envelopes with a flyer urging workers to
attend a rally against Representative Pat Williams, a Democrat who supports
environmental causes. The offending item included some suggested slogans to put
on placards: "No more Williams, wilderness or wolves," and "You'll
need a job Pat."

The development activists have also reached out to other conservatives,
cementing an ideological alliance that those nice-sounding names tend to
obscure. Ron Arnold and his boss, Alan Gottlieb, president and founder of the
Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, are products of right-wing political
circles, not the timber or construction industries. Both have ties to Reverend
Moon's Unification Church: Arnold was president of the Washington state chapter
of Moon's American Freedom Coalition from 1989 through 1990, while Gottlieb was
a director of the group. Gottlieb was also a board member of Young Americans for
Freedom, national director of Youth Against McGovern, and a gun lobby leader who
founded the Second Amendment Foundation and founded and chaired the Citizens
Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

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Organizing and networking have not supplanted the more traditional means of
influencing politics, namely giving money to campaigns through both individual
donations and political action committee contributions. According to public
records (compiled in part by the organization Iwork for, the Western States
Center), political donations from developers are on the rise, providing an
invisible--but very substantial--helping hand to the more public efforts at the
grass roots.

In Oregon, pro-development money accounted for 14.7 percent of the money
statewide candidates accepted in 1990; in 1994 that number grew to 16.4 percent,
with the winners on average receiving 21 percent of their campaign cash from
developers. Perhaps that fact helps explain why in 1995 the legislature proposed
scores of bills that would weaken water quality or destroy environmental
enforcement programs, passing several. Only Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber,
who vetoed more than 50 bills in that session, stood in the developers' way.

In Wyoming, development interests accounted for 26
percent of all campaign contributions in 1990 and 27 percent in 1992 (1994
figures are still unavailable), the highest of any state. In 1995 the state
legislature passed a takings bill and voted to allow the dumping of nuclear
waste inside the state. Polls showed that 70 to 80 percent of the voters opposed
the latter, but four members of the conference committee that wrote the bill
were beneficiaries of large industry donations. One of them, state
Representative Jim Twiford, got three-quarters of his campaign money from the
development-resource industry; two other representatives, Bob Peck and Eli
Bebout, are founders of and major stockholders in the New Corporation, which
according to the Outdoor Council Legislative Report is the only Wyoming
company that has publicly expressed interest in the high-level radioactive-waste

Last year the Wyoming legislature also passed "audit privilege"
legislation. Audit privilege laws, which have been introduced in 41 states,
allow a company to audit its own environmental violations; in return, the state
grants immunity from penalty and promises to keep information about violations
confidential, even when the violations were intentional. The Wyoming bill
limited polluter liability for lawsuits and took away citizens' rights to obtain
information about pollution that may have harmed public health or property. How
did the industry get such a plum? By writing it, of course. Greg Schaefer, a
lobbyist for an ARCO subsidiary called the Thunder Basin Coal Company, took
public credit for the bill when it was introduced to the legislature.

Such extensive industry involvement in the legislative process has become
even more common since the Republicans swept into power. At the federal level,
it is no coincidence that the anti-regulatory provisions of the legislation
endorsed in the Contract with America were well suited to industry; their
lobbyists had drafted much of the language. Those bills would have required
federal agencies to use quantitative benefit-risk studies as the sole basis for
evaluating regulations and would have provided a host of new opportunities for
industry interests to influence those evaluations and take the agencies to

At the state level it has been the same story. The Idaho Association of
Commerce and Industry, which is part of the Idaho Private Property Coalition,
was the prime mover behind an audit privilege bill. It was one of several in
1995 to pass the Idaho House, where legislators received 25 percent of their
campaign money from resource companies and developers. Among the more notorious
new laws were measures that weakened water-quality protection and created a $1
million "constitutional defense fund" to be used by state officials in
court cases asserting state control over federal natural resources. Bowing to
the strength of the grazing lobby, legislators even passed a bill to grant
grazing leases only to ranchers, in order to prevent environmentalists from
buying up the leases first.


Given this history, it would be easy to write off the environment as just
one more policy area hopelessly in the grasp of big money. But activists in the
state of Washington proved otherwise over the last few years, as they took on
the timber industry and other development interests in a series of high-profile
political battles.

Like most other timber-rich states, Washington has been the scene of an
ongoing dispute between logging companies and environmentalists. The timber
companies, which have cut down trees faster than they can grow back, want the
state to release more public lands for logging; if such access is not provided,
they say they will need to lay off workers. Environmentalists oppose such
measures, while calling on the state to slow down development with comprehensive
land-use planning--a measure particularly troubling to the many timber companies
that owned real estate subsidiaries.

When one environmental group, 1000 Friends of Washington, finally succeeded
in putting a land-use measure on the ballot in 1990, the developers met the
challenge. An alliance of corporate interests--not just timber companies but
also such corporations as Boeing, Darigold, and U.S. West--spent nearly $1.8
million on advertising and grassroots organizing to block the measure, which
promised to affect both real estate and logging. Groups such as the Washington
Contract Loggers Association organized rallies of angry timber workers; the
American Pulpwood Association provided public speaking and lobbying training to
potential activists. Meanwhile, the development interests poured more than $2.5
million into the campaign coffers of state legislature candidates; nearly 70
percent of that money went to eventual winners and much of it was directed at a
group of 20 candidates particularly friendly to industry.

The industry coalition won their initiative fight, but ironically their
failure to dislodge a Democratic legislature gave the environmentalists an
opportunity to achieve through legislation what they could not through the
ballot measure. Sure enough, the legislature adopted a growth management act
while defeating four property rights bills--three dealing with wetlands and one
takings measure--that had strong industry backing.

But the story does not end there. Heavy lobbying had
already neutered some of the act's more ambitious provisions anyway: The Seattle
reported that developer pressure frightened the
legislature into cutting $4.5 million from the program's funding and stripping
some key provisions. Now, the industry groups concentrated on organizing at the
county level, where the planning would actually take place. Organizations such
as the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance began to crop up and make their
presence known at local meetings. The Snohomish group billed itself as "a
grassroots group concerned about environmental regulation" while taking
money from construction interests, such as the Master Builders Association of
King and Snohomish Counties. Jim Klauser, the director of Seattle Master
Builders, became the alliance's director.

Against this backdrop, the developers increased their investment in state
races for 1992--a total of $3.2 million in contributions, up from the $2.5
million in 1990. Again, the results were mixed. Thanks in part to a strong
turnout for Bill Clinton's presidential bid, the developers' candidates lost
several key races and only 36 percent of industry money ended up in the pockets
of winners. Industry sponsorship had actually become a liability for some
candidates. One such candidate was land commissioner hopeful Ann Anderson, a
conservative Republican legislator who had collected more than half a million
dollars from various development interests. Eight timber companies alone gave
her more money than any candidate for that office had ever collected. Anderson
blanketed the state with television and radio ads accusing her opponent,
Jennifer Belcher, of being an "outright environmentalist." Yet despite
outspending Belcher by a nearly three-to-one margin, Anderson lost, in no small
part because Belcher convinced voters that Anderson's logging ties constituted a
conflict of interest.

But despite these losses, the Republicans--and the developers--won a crucial
victory in the form of a new campaign finance initiative that imposed $500
limits on campaign contributions. Although purportedly designed to limit the
influence of big money on campaigns, the measure disproportionately affected
candidates dependent on donations from organized labor. PACs in general were
hard hit by the contribution limits, but those PACs with well-heeled
contributors were able to make up the difference with individual contributions.
Labor PACs, with tens of thousands of $35 contributors, could not call on the
rank and file to fill the gap. The new law also made it more difficult for labor
to raise the money by payroll withholding.

Thus the new fundraising law helped lay the groundwork for the stunning
Republican gains of 1994. Total labor contributions to campaigns fell 40
percent, while money from pro-development groups--most of them
pro-Republican--increased slightly. Democrats, who once enjoyed a 16 percent
funding advantage over Republicans, fell into a dead heat. With financial parity
and Newt Gingrich's long coattails factored into the equation, the Washington
House went from a 65-33 Democratic majority to a 60-38 Republican majority.
Republican gains in the Senate brought them to within one vote of control (and
because one Democratic senator was absent for health reasons during much of the
1995 session, the Senate was effectively split).

There was still Democratic Governor Michael Lowry with his veto, but the
developers found a way around him. Earlier in the year a pro-development group,
the Washington Property Protection Coalition, had tried unsuccessfully to put a
takings measure on the November ballot. But with friendlier faces in the state
House, the group had another option--the citizen's initiative. Under Washington
law, citizens can petition to send a measure directly to the state government
where it needs only a majority approval from the legislature--not a signature by
the governor--to become law. Although the measure had only 12,000 of the
required 182,000 signatures a month before the deadline, industry
groups--including the Building Industry Association, the Association of
Realtors, and Plum Creek Timber--raised $200,000 in three days and hired
American Petition Consultants of California to run the signature-gathering

The effort succeeded. The measure sailed through the Republican-dominated
House, then passed the Senate with the support of several Democrats. On April
18, the toughest takings bill in the country became law in Washington.


Environmentalists countered with their own ballot initiative to bring the
new takings law up for reconsideration. They pulled together a broad coalition
that included the League of Women Voters, the Association of Washington Cities,
and the Association of Washington Churches, as well as labor unions and
environmentalists. In less than three months they managed to collect 231,122

Once again, the builders, realtors, and timber industries opened their
checkbooks. Altogether, development interests spent $1.5 million, not including
undocumented independent expenditures by the Republican Party, building
associations, and the Farm Bureau. The Building Industry Association of
Washington was the single largest contributor, spending $212,959, but the
national and state realtor PACs together contributed $270,000. An assortment of
timber companies, lead by Plum Creek, Simpson, Longview Fibre, and Boise Cascade
came up with nearly $244,000.

The developers' appeal, as before, targeted ordinary folks with anecdotes
about how environmental regulations had eliminated jobs and destroyed personal
assets. A centerpiece of the campaign was a story of an elderly couple, the
Powells, who, according to the industry advertisements, owned some land but
could not build on it or even walk on it, all because of a wetlands law.
Environmentalists, they said, were destroying their nest egg.

It would have been a sad story, except it wasn't true--and this time
environmentalists were able to use that information as ammunition.
Investigations by the environmentalist campaign showed that there were no
building or walking restrictions over the Powells' land. As for the nest egg, it
turned out the Powells had recently put their property--which they purchased
years before for $13,000--on the market for $400,000. More digging produced
contributor lists for the pro-takings law campaign. It demonstrated who really
stood to gain from the takings law, and environmentalists hit hard on the $300
million to $900 million per year the measure would cost the taxpayers.

The muckraking helped energize the environmentalists. They organized an
effective speakers bureau to engage the developers on the local level, blanketed
events with volunteers and pamphlets, and raised money for advertising. Previous
anti-regulatory actions had threatened to streamline and outsource government
work--thus eliminating public-sector jobs. This allowed environmentalists to
find common ground with the state's labor unions, thus undercutting the
developers' would-be base of blue-collar workers. In the latest Washington
battle, environmentalists and unions again joined forces.

On November 7, the voters of Washington voted down the takings law by a 60
percent to 40 percent vote. "The vote shows the state is not for sale,"
said Dee Frankforth, manager of the anti-takings campaign.

Whether this story offers hope for other progressive
organizations frustrated by the hegemony of political money is, of course, a
whole other question. Environmentalists represent perhaps the best organized
movement in the left-liberal corner of the universe, with the possible exception
of organized labor (which has surely seen better times but seems to be
attempting a comeback). It might take a leap of faith to imagine activists
toppling the corporate interests that have stalled national progress on such
issues as education and health care. Yet it is instructive to see that an
investment in grassroots organizing can pay dividends. Progressives could do
worse than to take a closer look at how the Washington environmental movement
took on big money and won.

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