The Gristle

Hide the Money

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

HIDE THE MONEY: As we predicted early on in this election (because it happens every election) the corporate cash dump arrived late and in probable violation of the state’s campaign finance laws, and was put to immediate mischief in a negative (and unbearably stupid) smear campaign against Satpal Sidhu. The Whatcom County Council member is running for the position of County Executive against oil and coal industry lobbyist Tony Larson.

As detailed in a complaint to the state’s campaign finance watchdog, the Public Disclosure Commission, the cash dump came in a $70,000 contribution to a newly formed political action committee, the Coalition for a Better Northwest Washington, from the parent company of the Phillips 66 refinery. Another arrived from Marathon Petroleum Company. Both lobbying groups are headquartered out of state.

Depositing contributions in excess of $138,000 from a handful of deep-pocket donors, the Coalition has spent less than $5,000 on behalf of Larson’s campaign, according to the latest PDC filings. They’ve spent more than $66,000 in independent expenditures against Sidhu. This imbalance alone indicates what sort of campaign they’re running—it is highly negative, and it is in pursuit of no coherent policy position.

The cash has been spent primarily on television advertising, digital social media buys and highly misleading telephone push-polls. The catalyst of the noise is the county’s ongoing process for land code amendments for the Cherry Point industrial zone; however, it is very telling that these cash spends say nothing at all about those amendments. Instead, they slyly pull out of context remarks made on Council by Sidhu—by training a petroleum product engineer—about the comparative value of petroleum.

“This is the best they could find against me?” Sidhu laughed. “I can raise the prices of oil? Where does Satpal draw that authority as County Executive? It is ludicrous.

“I am stunned to have to respond to the level of stupidity being presented by these major companies.”

It is hard not to laugh at the silliness of these attacks—many thousands of dollars terribly spent—but the target audience is not a sophisticated voter. More than anything, the campaign serves as acid commentary by the oil industry of their estimation of the intelligence of Whatcom County residents.

It additionally illustrates that, far from suffering, the petroleum industry has money to cavalierly piss away in the shabbiest ways.

“The most surprising thing,” Sidhu said, “is there is no ad about Cherry Point. There’s no argument with Cherry Point because they could not find any argument.”

There is very little a local government can do in response to the major projects proposed by global energy giants. County Council has stepped up to enact some small portion of that very little—and it is all legal and appropriate, and mostly involves increasing public process and transparency in the approval of these projects.

The late cash dump served to generate a counter-response in grassroots activism.

Sidhu has aggressively closed the gap on Larson’s early lead in fundraising—much of it in the last few weeks and accelerating in the last few days as voters have responded to the smear campaign. Sidhu has raised nearly $170,000 in hundreds of small campaign contributions in amounts under $1,000—a strong indicator of grassroots support. This compares against Larson, who has received a comparable total, but in half the number of individual donations—three-quarters of which are in large amounts in excess of $1,000.

The comparative weights of these contributions serve as strong forecasters of election outcomes.

But late corporate contributions are part of a corrupt pattern of abuse in Whatcom County elections, and they manifestly defeat the public interest and capacity to “follow the money” in political campaigns.

This time it’s Big Oil. In 2013, it was Big Coal, as the PAC Whatcom First committed a substantially similar violation, accepting tens of thousands of dollars after the disclosure deadline. Whatcom First was fined a small amount by the PDC for the violation.

In that hearing they were represented by attorney Dan Brady, who appears to specialize in campaign finance mischief. Brady Law has been held on retainer for the new Coalition for a Better Northwest Washington—and undoubtedly a portion of the cash dump will help pay their legal defense and whatever paltry fine is assigned by the PDC.

That’s how this game is played—with the money not only breaking the law but afterward serving to scoff at the law.

In a similar case in 2015, a different PAC, Clear Ballot Choices, was working to influence Whatcom County elections by severing Bellingham’s ability to participate in countywide elections. The PAC—managed in large part by the same cast of serial lawbreakers—was similarly found to have improperly reported campaign expenditures. In that case, the actor who was identified as at fault was Tony Larson. Larson, through his Whatcom Business Alliance, is essentially a highly compensated lobbyist for the oil and coal industry, now seeking to represent citizens as the head of county administration. Representing Pacific International Terminals in that action was—again—Dan Brady, who provided legal counsel to Clear Ballot Choices.

Coming full circle and greasing the palm that enriches him, Brady has contributed substantially to Larson’s campaign (which he stands to earn back representing these scofflaws at some future PDC enforcement hearing).

It’s the revolving door of a borderline enterprise whose primary function is to curtail democracy, mislead voters and conceal—through a three-card monte shuffling of PACs and expenditures—who is buying our local elections. All who engineer it should be ashamed.

Past Columns
War Waged on Two Fronts

December 11, 2019

Work Horse, Not Show Horse

December 4, 2019

Toward A Housing Summit

November 27, 2019

Dueling Data

November 20, 2019

Of Apples and Barrels

November 13, 2019

Anchors Are Weighed

October 23, 2019

A Working Waterfront?

October 15, 2019

Keep Working

October 9, 2019

Signs of Hate

October 2, 2019

Trust Gap

September 25, 2019

Netse Mot

September 18, 2019

A Rising Tide

September 11, 2019

The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Hands Against Hate

August 28, 2019

Ground Zero

August 21, 2019

Fire and Frost

August 14, 2019

The Fury and the Folly

August 7, 2019

Due East II

July 31, 2019

The Real Social Network

July 17, 2019

Events
Today
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Breakfast with Santa

9:00am|Sedro-Woolley Community Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am

Sumas Book Club

10:00am|Sumas Library

Fairhaven Winterfest

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Winter Faire

10:00am|Whatcom Hills Waldorf School

Old-Fashioned Christmas Market

10:00am|Friday Harbor Brickworks

Winter Arts & Crafts Festival

10:00am|Pioneer Park Pavilion

Your Life is a Story Writers Group

10:30am| South Whatcom Library

Award-Winning Book Club

10:30am|Lynden Library

Mastering Wisteria

10:30am|Full Bloom Farm

Snow Geese of Skagit

10:30am|Christianson's Nursery

Saltadena Celebration

11:00am|Saltadena Bakery

Winter Wonderland Gift Gala

11:00am|Carnation Building

Holiday Craft Bazaars

11:30am

Holiday Maker's Market

12:00pm|Terramar Brewing and Distilling

Holiday Tea and Crafts

1:00pm|North Fork Library

Holiday Joy with Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Festive Feasting Reception

1:00pm|Good Earth Pottery

Teen Art Fair

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Big Holiday reds tasting

2:00pm|eifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Shrinking the Worry Monster

2:00pm|Village Books

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

Bowman Bay Holiday

3:00pm|Bowman Bay

A Deep Dive Into Eve Deisher's Psyche

3:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Noel Ensemble

3:00pm|Jansen Art Center

One Meditation

4:00pm| Boulevard Park

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Holiday History Hi-Jinks

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Early Railroads of Whatcom County

7:00pm|Village Books

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Center Into Solstice

7:00pm|Cafe Blue

Winter Solstice Concert with SeaMuse

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

The Kelley World Tour

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Cidertails with Alexine Langdon

7:30pm|housand Acre Cider House

Heralding Christmas with Skagit Valley Chorale

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tomorrow
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Winter Wonderland Gift Gala

11:00am|Carnation Building

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Heralding Christmas with Skagit Valley Chorale

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Celtic Yuletide

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Scarlett and Dicey

4:00pm|Village Books

Vaudevillingham

7:00pm|Cirque Lab

Monday
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Whatcom Flute Ensemble

3:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

MVHS Winter Concert

4:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Community Soup Kitchen

6:00pm|Little Cheerful Cafe

Avalanche Awareness with NWAC

6:00pm|REI

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »