Shady outside interests control Oregon environmental groups

Drew Johnson_thb

by Drew Johnson

Two of the loudest voices in Oregon state politics receive the majority of their funding from outside the state and get their marching orders from shady special interests, according to IRS documents and other public records.

The Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters are considered among the most prominent environmental groups in the state. Few organizations have as much sway in the halls of the state capitol and in the voting booth.

This year, the two environmental extremist groups have fought, with mixed success, to keep the state’s unpopular Clean Fuel program, increase public funding for electric vehicles and passenger rail boondoggles, and ban many children’s toys containing common chemicals, among other pet issues.

It increasingly appears, however, that Oregon lawmakers are doing a disservice to their constituents by allowing these groups to dictate policy debates in Salem.

The Oregon Environmental Council claims to be a “membership-based organization,” but the outfit is clearly more concerned with making its deep-pocketed out-of-state donors happy than it is representing members who actually live in Oregon.

In 2013, the most recent year that full records are available, more than 77 percent of the grants collected by the Oregon Environmental Council came from out-of-state sources. A staggering 82 percent of money the group received from foundations came from outside Oregon in 2012. That year, only two of the 12 foundations that donated to the Oregon Environmental Council were based in Oregon. The organization’s largest grants came from places like New York, Michigan and Massachusetts.

Oregon Environmental Council decision-makers happily burn through the dubious out-of-state dollars as soon as they come in. The Council’s executive director earns well over $130,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to the organization’s tax records. The group also admitted to spending more than $214,000 a year on wining and dining lawmakers, and other lobbying tactics.

The most consistent donor to the Oregon Environmental Council is the Boston-based John Merck Fund. The foundation, which was funded by an heir of the Merck pharmaceutical fortune, focuses on “reforming state and federal chemicals policies.” That may well explain why so much of the Oregon Environmental Council’s focus is related to chemical policy issues.

In the past three years alone, the John Merck Fund has showered the Council with no less than $315,000.

The fact that an out-of-state foundation spends so much money buying favor with an Oregon-focused environmental organization should be concerning enough. But, even more troublingly, the John Merck Fund serves as a puppet master for a number of state environmental groups around the country.

Radical environmental organizations like the Oregon Environmental Council have been co-opted by large national donors, led by the John Merck Fund, and turned into de facto franchises that share the same resources and push the same legislation.

The organization in charge of these state-based franchises is the State Alliance for Federal Reform of Policy, known more commonly as “Safer States.”

Safer States serves as the smoke-filled back room where one-size-fits-all legislative proposals are developed and then disseminated to its “partners” in more than a dozen states. This questionable scheme explains why environmental and anti-chemical legislation supported by the Oregon Environmental Council looks almost exactly the same as bills proposed in Maine, Washington, Alaska, Minnesota, California, Maryland, Connecticut and many other states.

Safer States directs money to its partner organizations, authors research papers released by the state outfits, and provides the anti-chemical groups with lobbying and marketing assistance in order to promote legislation. Perhaps most importantly, Safer States works to ensure organizations such as the Oregon Environmental Council appear as if they are independent, locally focused and grassroots-oriented groups – even though they’re really nationally controlled mouthpieces for powerful companies, foundations and environmental activists.

The Oregon League of Conservation Voters, unlike the Oregon Environmental Council, does little to hide the fact that it is an arm of a large national organization. Its parent group, the League of Conservation Voters, spends millions of dollars annually in an attempt to buy elections for environmentally focused Democratic candidates.

Much like the Oregon Environmental Council, however, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters can’t seem to drum up adequate donations in Oregon and resorts to relying heavily on out-of-state dollars to operate.

In 2012, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters collected 83 percent of its foundation grants from groups operating outside the state. The next year, 54 percent of foundation support came from out-of-state organizations. Both years, just one single in-state foundation donated to the group: the Oregon Community Foundation. Even though the Oregon League of Conservation Voters is based in Portland, there’s little doubt that the group is beholden to its masters in Washington, D.C.

Both the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters work hard to maintain a façade of representing Oregonians and their interests. But, in reality, both groups get much of their funding and most of their ideas from special interest groups and politically motivated foundations located far from the Beaver State.

Lawmakers and voters should take recommendations from the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon League of Conservation with a grain of salt. When organizations are clearly bought and paid for by sketchy outsiders, it’s hard to tell whether they actually have best interest of Oregon residents at heart.

Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and a columnist at The Washington Times