Three Southwest Washington companies are the top donors behind a lobbying effort to influence legislators' views on the Columbia River Crossing project.
Kanati Falls Ranch, a timber-management company in Washougal; DeWils Industries, a kitchen and bathroom cabinet manufacturer in Vancouver; and GT Properties, a real estate business in Vancouver, each gave at least $500 to The I-5 Project Inc., the organization that hired a group of lobbyists to fight the CRC. That's according to public records filed with the state's Public Disclosure Commission and the Secretary of State's office.
Last month, the PDC began pressuring lobbyists hired by the CRC critics to file a list of the I-5 Project's top donors, but the I-5 Project and its lawyer questioned whether that information really needed to be disclosed. According to state law, if an organization hires a lobbyist, and that organization recently received at least $500 from any other group, then the names of those donor groups must be disclosed, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said. At that time, Anderson vowed: "I'm going to continue to argue with them until I get the list."
The list doesn't disclose precisely how much each company donated to the cause (just that they donated at least $500), but the I-5 Project planned to spend at least $20,000 on lobbying during the special legislative session set to end Tuesday.
Kanati Falls Ranch is managed by Nancy Engleman. Mark Engleman, the I-5 Project's treasurer and a precinct committee officer for the Clark County Republican Party, is listed as one of a few members of the Kanati Falls company, according to corporation documents filed with the secretary of state.
Mark Engleman, a Vancouver resident, said his lobbying efforts are just one front in the CRC fight. He says the project is flawed for many reasons, the biggest one being the CRC's plan to extend Portland's light rail line into Vancouver.
The $3.4 billion CRC project would also replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River and update nearby freeway interchanges.
Light rail doesn't transport people effectively, and light rail's cost will be offset by tolls paid by automobile drivers, Engleman said. He also said light rail "is what's driving the bridge height that's causing so much trauma to commerce."
The I-5 Project's second donor, cabinet manufacturer DeWils Industries, is headed by president and CEO Tracy Wilson of Vancouver. He is married to Lynda Wilson, chairwoman of the Clark County Republican Party.
The third donor to the lobbying effort is GT Properties, a real estate business operated by Craig Johnson. Johnson and his wife, Diane Johnson, own Vancouver Bolt and Supply Inc. The hardware company is a distributor of nuts, bolts, screws, hand tools, cutting tools, power tools and supplies.
Mark Engleman said that the I-5 project has been portrayed unfairly by the press, but its donors have "no nefarious intent," and they want to see "the community being healthy." He said he wants lawmakers to slow down and consider a CRC redesign before committing millions to the project.
Supporters of the CRC say if Washington state lawmakers delay making a $450 million commitment to the CRC, then the project will face significant delays and lose a chance to secure federal money for the project. They also say that removing light rail from the project will kill the CRC because Oregon won't want to come back to the table and negotiate a new bridge-replacement design. Oregon's governor has said as much.
The 30-day special session began May 13 so lawmakers could hammer out their unresolved differences on the state's operating budget. Before the session ends, CRC supporters hope lawmakers also will pass a transportation tax package that would raise $450 million for replacing the I-5 Bridge. The Oregon Legislature this year approved putting up its $450 million share of the CRC, but that proposal is contingent on whether Washington does the same this year.
The lobbyists hired by The I-5 Project Inc. are Stephen Buckner of Millennia Public Affairs and Denny Eliason and Kim Clauson of Alliances Northwest. Both lobbying firms often advocate on behalf of big businesses, including BP America, Starbucks and Amazon.com.
Millennia Public Affairs and Alliances Northwest also did some lobbying for the I-5 Project group in April, when the 2013 regular legislative session was winding down.
In April, the I-5 Project paid Alliances Northwest $2,500 for lobbying, $81.36 for lobbyists' personal expenses such as food and travel, and $64.42 for other lobbying-related costs, according to a different document filed with the PDC this month. That same month, the I-5 Project paid Millennia Public Affairs $2,500 in compensation for lobbying. May lobbying reports become available later this month.
Madore hired lobbyist
County Commissioner David Madore, a Republican and CRC opponent, also hired a lobbyist this year. He paid Brian Minnich of the firm Allied Communication Strategies more than $6,000 to lobby about transportation, state government and local government issues, according to a report Minnich filed with the PDC. Those lobbying efforts took place during the final month of the 2013 regular legislative session. According to his filing, Madore hired the lobbyist as a "citizen" and it was not connected with his elected position. The county has its own lobbyist.
While lobbying in April, Minnich spent $23.82 at River's Edge restaurant while meeting with Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center; $21.50 at Pints Barn restaurant while meeting with Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale; and $39.56 at Peppers Mexican restaurant while meeting with Ericksen and Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane. Minnich also spent $28.62 at River's Edge while meeting with Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick.
Ericksen and Brown serve on the Senate Transportation Committee, while Baumgartner and Rivers serve on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which helps write the state's operating budget.
Rivers, a critic of the CRC, said that in addition to meeting with anti-CRC lobbyists this year, she's been approached in Olympia by lobbyists for labor organizations that support the CRC, and by Identity Clark County, an economic development organization pulling for the project. It's the most lobbying she's seen in Olympia about the CRC.
"Up until this year, most of my colleagues didn't have much of an idea about the project at all," Rivers said.