Ericksen blasts government-funded campaign attacking Washington farmers

Billboards, bus ads in Olympia and Bellingham blame farmers for water pollution
 Lobbying campaign aimed at Legislature is run through third-party organizations
 Funding comes from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Your tax dollars at work: $570,000 in EPA grants paid for campaign.

Your tax dollars at work: $570,000 in EPA grants paid for campaign.

OLYMPIA – Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is raising big objections to a lobbying campaign that blames Washington farmers for water pollution – and is paid for by your tax dollars.

A billboard and bus-board campaign in Olympia and Bellingham last month declared “unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.” Not only is the argument incorrect, Ericksen says, the outrage is that the money comes from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The ads direct people to a website urging Washington citizens to contact the state Legislature to advocate more stringent regulations on agriculture. Those policies include specific proposals commonly advanced during the legislative and administrative rulemaking process. Federal backing for the lobbying campaign is not disclosed because taxpayer money is funneled through a series of third-party organizations.

“This is a blatant misuse of taxpayer money, and the Environmental Protection Agency has some explaining to do,” Ericksen said. “Now that the issue has been exposed in the press, EPA is telling us it was all a terrible mistake. But the public needs to know how this bad idea got past EPA decision-makers in the first place.”

The matter was exposed last week in the regional agricultural newspaper Capital Press. The story reveals EPA provided a $570,000 grant to the Swinomish Indian Tribe through the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. It goes on to explain that the tribe joined with three environmental groups to form the “What’s Upstream” project, and used federal dollars primarily to pay for the services of Strategies 360, a lobbying and public-affairs firm.

The bus-board advertisements in Bellingham were removed after Whatcom Transit Authority officials acknowledged they violated an agency policy prohibiting political advertising. Billboards apparently were removed within the last week.

In a letter to the EPA Wednesday, Ericksen asks the agency to explain how the campaign was approved for federal funding, who approved it, and whether the campaign will continue to receive federal funding now that questions about its propriety have been raised.

“The idea that the federal government would pay a half-million dollars to create a phony grass-roots campaign to lobby state government ought to appall anyone who pays taxes,” Ericksen said. “Meaning all of us.”

Bus-board placards in Whatcom County were removed after transit officials decided they violated a ban on political advertising.

Bus-board placards in Whatcom County were removed after transit officials decided they violated a ban on political advertising.