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Sierra Club Launches Anti-Gorton Ads

by Joel Connelly, National Correspondent
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 20, 2000

As Republican Sen. Slade Gorton begins three days of Earth Day-related appearances, the Sierra Club has launched a campaign that accuses him of "helping polluters" and voting against clean water and wild salmon.

The environmental organization, which has 550,000 members nationwide and 30,000 in Washington, is running ads on five Seattle radio stations and will go on the air in May with a television campaign.

"It's a Gorton accountability project. The ads are designed to inform the public of Slade Gorton's bad votes and to have the public tell him to change how he does business," said Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club's Northwest representative.

Sierra Club volunteers plan to distribute thousands of leaflets criticizing Gorton at Earth Day 2000 events this weekend.

"Our response is that the Sierra Club has come up with a bunch of phony, unsubstantiated charges that are not backed up by facts. They will do anything to defeat Slade Gorton," said Cynthia Bergman, Gorton's press secretary.

Gorton, seeking a fourth Senate term, has often crossed swords with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

Environmentalists have criticized Gorton for letting timber industry lobbyists help draft a bill to roll back the Endangered Species Act and for inserting language in a spending bill to remove a key obstacle to construction of a gold mine in the Okanogan National Forest.

However, Gorton has worked to identify with and get money for locally based salmon recovery efforts in Western Washington.

Gorton is chairing a Senate field hearing on salmon recovery efforts in Redmond today. Tomorrow, he will appear at the Ballard Locks for a "Grate Mates" installation. "Grate Mates" are filters placed under parking lot storm drains to trap oil, dirt and other pollutants. On Saturday, Gorton will release steelhead into the Hamma Hamma River at a hatchery on the Olympic Peninsula.

Arthur described Gorton's actions as "Greenwashing," a tactic he described as trying to appear sympathetic to the environment at home while casting anti-environmental votes in Washington, D.C.

The League of Conservation Voters, in its national score card, gave Gorton a rating of 11 out of 100 on his 1999 votes in the Senate. It said Gorton had voted "correctly" on only one of nine key votes, when he favored tougher fuel economy standards for new cars. The Sierra Club sent Gorton a thank-you letter for his work on fuel efficiency.

Bergman described the latest Sierra Club ads as "predictable, negative and partisan."

At a fund-raiser last month, the senator predicted that four major interests would spend money to defeat him in this year's election.

Gorton listed what he called "Washington, D.C.-based environmental groups" along with Indian tribes flush with gambling revenue, organized labor and trial lawyers.

The Sierra Club is the first to go on the offensive.

The club's ads do not call for Gorton's defeat. They are "educational," taking advantage of a loophole in the Internal Revenue Service code that allows groups to conduct such advertising without disclosing who is paying for the ads.

A business-backed group associated with the insurance industry, Americans for Job Security, has already run ads praising Gorton.

The Sierra Club is delivering a very different message.

"Instead of protecting Washington's water and salmon, Sen. Slade Gorton has been carrying the water for the mining, oil and gas and development industries -- sneaking last minute amendments into bills . . . allowing industry lobbyists to draft legislation . . . and voting against bills to protect our drinking water," the ads claim.

The Sierra Club spent more than $4 million in the 1998 election, an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 in Washington state.

The club boosted the re-election of Sen. Patty Murray and backed Democrat Jay Inslee in his successful challenge to Republican Rep. Rick White.

In Washington state, the Sierra Club's political effort is aimed at suburban voters. "The area around Seattle is our fertile crescent," said the club's Jim Young.

Suburbanites, particularly suburban women, are considered the state's swing constituency. They went for Gorton in 1994 but gave big majorities to President Clinton in 1996 and to Murray two years later.

Two Democrats, former Rep. Maria Cantwell and state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, are competing for their party's nomination to take on Gorton in this fall's campaign.

Joel Connelly, National Correspondent
Sierra Club Launches Anti-Gorton Ads
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 20, 2000

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