Posted by: sweeneyblog | October 2, 2013

How the Coal Industry Funneled $40,000 into Whatcom

In the last four months, SSA Marine and BNSF Railroad have funneled thousands of dollars into Whatcom Republican candidates. While digging through the PDC in September, I discovered a whole series of very troubling donations from those in the coal shipping industry to the Republican candidates for County Council and the port commission.

I’ve compiled this information into an infographic to help explain how this is possible. Click the image to make it bigger.

Bill Knutzen, Michelle Luke, Kathy Kershner, Ben Elenbaas

How the Coal Industry Pours Money Into Whatcom

It works like this: SSA Marine (under the name Pacific International Terminal) donates $30,000 to the state Republican party. BNSF Railroad donates $10,000. The state party, of which local Republican Luanne Van Werven is the vice-chair, turns around and gives $3,000 to local Whatcom candidates directly and $15,000 to the county party – keeping a healthy profit of $22,000 for future election purposes.

The county Republicans then donate $8,800 of that money to the local candidates, keeping $6,200 for get out the vote operations on the candidate’s behalf.

By funnelling the money through the state and county parties, SSA Marine and BSNF Railroad has ensured that their names do not appear on any of the candidates disclosure forms – but the money still gets where it needs to go.

This sort of earmarking is illegal if not properly declared as such. Local political science professor Todd Donovan has filed a PDC complaint, which you can read here.

Legalities aside, I just find it troubling to see this wave of coal shipping funds propping up our Republican candidates. It raises serious doubts about how impartial they will be on the issue of the Gateway Pacific Terminal.



  1. Well, are we really surprised? We knew these candidates weren’t going to be impartial in the first place. Kershner, in particular, has made very clear that her only guiding principle is her misguided notion of property rights. She’s merely more outspoken than the rest of the bunch. What troubles me more is that the public won’t be outraged by this overt attempt by outsiders to influence our local governance. Just wait until the IE money becomes apparent on the airwaves. Wait for it. We’re about to be inundated with ads attacking the Dem candidates, telling us coal is good and growth management bad, yada yada yada.

    • Please explain what you mean by “misguided notion of property rights”.

      • Whatcom County is the only county in the state in violation of the Growth Management Act. And our council is spending thousands of tax dollars to hire development lawyers to repeatedly and unsuccessfully defend this gross deference to developers…in the name of protecting property rights

      • Thank you, Duane. What he said, Donna.

  2. Yet another excellent and informative report! Nice work and nice graphic summary!

    Perhaps Mr Donovan’s comprehensive statement to the Public Disclosure Commission might result in actual “public disclosure” of Republican Party sponsorship but if/when this occurs, most general voters will be unlikely to learn of it; most politically active Democrats will deplore it; most core-Republicans will laud it.

    The actual problem is that the process advancing GPT is ongoing despite categorical written opposition from the Lummi Tribe; despite adverse effects on climate; despite the inimical changes to the local economy; and despite opposition from cities along the train route. In short, it’s the plutocrats’ political engine operating at full speed, as usual.

  3. Best government money can buy? Sad to say, elections have become like our penny collection for homecoming queen. It’s even reported that way, whether intended or not, that the one who collects the most in campaign donations deserves to win! Never mind where it came from. I wish more of us could see thru this.

  4. Riley,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this research!
    Abe Jacobson

  5. Scooped the Herald? Nice job.

    • there is no evidence that the Herald was at all interested…’scooped’?…could be, but I doubt it…I’ve literally passed-on documents to the papers here from city hall that flat-out contradicted what our city officials were saying to reporters, to no avail…when I proved the officials were not telling the truth, the Herald went on to call one of the officials—the Mayor in fact, “Courageous.”

      • That’s why we have to use other outlets to get out the “real” news. Suggestions: Whatcom Watch FB page; NW Citizen. Others?
        [This is Terry Wechsler. I don’t know why this blog is picking up an old registration sometimes but not others.]

      • NWCitizen, Cascadia Weekly, the Whatcom Watch, the Bellingham Business Journal and yours truly are all members of the North Sound Media Alliance – a coalition of alternative media in Whatcom/Skagit/San Juans aimed at promoting alternatives to the big corporate news sources in our community.

      • Riley, NSMA has 100 FB followers. You don’t promote it. No one promotes it. Until I heard about the conservative candidates pulling out of the debate, I’d never heard of it. Get 10,000 followers of NSMA and we’ll celebrate.

      • Every movement starts with one person.

  6. as a former county chairman in a neighboring county, I can tell you that for years we have voted in committee allocations/campaign funds to our ‘favored’ candidates, and most of the money came from the State Party…I resigned in fact because I disagreed w/the committee’s choice in one instance, (and the way they went about it)…We were challenged on the legalities, and passed no prob…and that was before “Citizens’ United”…I’d be surprised if the R’s broke the law, and if they did, I suspect it’s a ‘technical’ violation, not in any way ‘criminal’…some money may be returned, someone might pay a fine, at worst…we’ll see I guess…

  7. The donation from the Grocery Manufacturers Association of 5 million dollars has now amassed a war chest of $17.2 million against GMO labeling (The No on 522 campaign) in WA State. Hope the hell we can defeat them so they end up wasting it. What do they have to hide. Just another example of how corporate power , money and greed is taking over this country!.

    • That’s actually the subject of my Saturday post. Tune in for factchecking Monsanto.

  8. Yes, Riley, thank you for making this public. Job well done.

  9. Lisa, inappropriate plug in the wrong conversation.

    The only issue I see with laundering the money from SSA/BNSF to candidates is the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine, and whether they know money from R’s is really from those who benefit from future votes. Oh, look! Big blog post on same. Now they know. And now they need to return that money, IMO. Will be interested to hear what county attorney says.

  10. Riley, Thank you for the excellent research and reporting!

  11. A $40.000 contribution to the Republican Party to use as they see fit seems small potatoes compared to the $93, 000 that the Washington Conservation Voters gave to the Whatcom Win’s slate. That amounts to over $23,000 per candidate. I guess the money from the conservation voters is cleaner than the money from SSA and BNSF. Must all depend on whose ox is being gored.


    • Whatcom Conservation Voters gave directly to the candidates under their own name. Everyone can see where it came from. The fact that SSA Marine and BNSF used this shell game involving the local parties is what I find interesting.

      • Second, the Washington Conservation Voters is not a private company, and it gains nothing financially from buying local elections. It is a public interest group, not a business. They do not have permits before the council’s consideration. This is a lot bigger deal than the Democrats’ “save the world” pledge cards. This is a project applicant trying to rig the permitting process to line its pockets, nothing more, and nothing less.

    • Your assessment is correct: the Whatcom Conservation Voters donation is cleaner because it was openly given, not effectively laundered via intermediaries as was the case under discussion here.

    • John, WCV doesn’t have permits pending before the Whatcom County Council. WCV represents VOTERS, as their name implies. They raise money from progressives to give to progressive candidates. That is an entirely different kettle of fish. The issue addressed by the blog post is about the laundering of money from permit applicants to council members who, if elected, would vote on the applicants’ permits.

      • The WCV is an AGENDA 21 organization.

      • I just . . . I . . . really?! That is the best you’ve got? Wow. Okay then. Washington Conservation Voters is secretly an arm of the UN, and those jackbooted thugs are going to come in and . . . make us replace our incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. Those monsters.

  12. If you look at the latest PDC filings you will see that the total for the democrat candidates is just under $200,000 and the Republican candidates just over $90,000.

    How much of the Democrat portion was ‘funneled” through out of the area entities vs. individuals?

    • Funneled from where? What worrisome organization could be funding our Democratic representatives? How about this, you write about it and I’ll link it.

      • The WCV.

    • none, apparently…

  13. corporate interests funding Republican candidates…say it ain’t so…the world is upside down.

  14. our mayor in Ferndale claims to be a democrat (or has in the past), and his re-election donations, double his first election, came almost wholly from developers, and a couple of them are based in Canada…I’m not drawing a false equivalency between the R’s & the D’s, for the R’s have taken raising money from narrow, secret (since Citizen’s United) to a new artform…but make no mistake, until the private money—all of it—is out, this is what we get…

  15. Patty Murray’s husband’s SSA retirement pension is also her joint asset. Conflict of interest or what?

    • I would agree, that is a conflict of interest . . . if she were voting on the Gateway Pacific Project. However, Sen. Patty Murray is not voting on this proposal – so I fail to see what it has to do with this issue.

  16. […] care deeply about stopping the coal terminal, this decision is easy. Do not vote for anyone who has taken money from the Coal industry. However, I am not a single issue voter, so here is more […]

  17. […] care deeply about stopping the coal terminal, this decision is easy. Do not vote for anyone who has taken money from the Coal […]

  18. […] one of the key organizers in the Whatcom Tea Party movement and one of the fundraisers for the pro-coal terminal PAC SAVEWhatcom last year that was funded by Gateway Pacific […]

  19. […] one of the key organizers in the Whatcom Tea Party movement and one of the fundraisers for the pro-coal terminal PAC SAVEWhatcom last year that was funded by Gateway Pacific […]

  20. […] to keep a close eye on the financial side of campaigns. Last year, I broke  the story of how coal companies funnelled thousands of dollars into our council races. This year, who knows how outside groups may impact our community? Already, Pacific Terminals and a […]

  21. […] Washington uses the same trick employed by the coal companies last year, where they funnelled contributions through two different PACs (political action committees) so that all their mailers would not have to say, “paid for by Gateway Pacific […]

  22. […] race, like so many before it (2011 Bellingham Mayor’s race, 2013 County Council) is about the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. Burr blasted the PUD for “aiding and abetting […]

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