Pro-CRC group spends $30,000 on ads

Its focus is to convince lawmakers project is needed now

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Columbia River Crossing supporters have increased efforts in recent months to convince legislators in Olympia, and residents in Clark County, that a plan to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge needs funding now.

The Columbia River Crossing Coalition, a pro-CRC group, spent more than $30,000 on ads aimed at spurring action on the controversial project. Washington legislators are wrapped up in legislative overtime so they can resolve their budget differences, and CRC supporters hope they'll also pass a transportation tax package that would raise $450 million for the CRC.

Of the money spent by the coalition, $5,000 went toward newspaper ads in The Columbian, $770 paid for automated phone calls in the Vancouver area, and $25,000 bought radio ads that hit the airwaves during a two-week period, a Portland-based consultant for the coalition, Page Phillips, said Monday.

The Columbia River Crossing Coalition's newspaper ads include a picture of the crumpled I-5 Skagit River bridge resting in the river. It asks readers to imagine a similar bridge collapse happening to the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River.

"Our situation is worse," one ad states. It asks readers to contact legislators who oppose the CRC.

CRC supporters also made several trips to Olympia in April, when the Legislature's regular session was coming to a close. Phillips, who doesn't typically work as a lobbyist, said she made so many Olympia trips that month that she registered as a lobbyist just to be on the safe side of state rules.

The strong voice of CRC advocates in Olympia, and the governor's embrace of the CRC, have helped keep the project intact in the proposed transportation package, Phillips said. That package would raise gas taxes and pay for several of the state's transportation needs.

"In that way, I feel like the folks in Southwest (Washington) who support this project have been really successful," she said. "We educated a lot of Washington state legislators in the last couple of months."

Phillips reported in her lobbying reports that the coalition paid her a salary of $8,000 in April. Phillips said she did not lobby during the 30-day special legislative session that ended Tuesday. Lawmakers started their second special session of the year Wednesday.

Coalition members

The Columbia River Crossing Coalition is a private nonprofit group funded largely by business and labor interests. The coalition's board of directors are Portland Business Alliance President Sandra McDonough, Identity Clark County Executive Director Paul Montague, Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt and Port of Vancouver Executive Director Todd Coleman, according to documents the group filed in January with the Secretary of State's office.

In those documents, the group states its primary purpose "is to build public consensus and political and financial support of a new bridge across the Columbia River." The group's website lists a few hundred individuals and organizations who support the coalition.

In many cases, organizations that purchase political advertising also need to report to the PDC who's paying them. But the Columbia River Crossing Coalition isn't considered one of those groups because the CRC is not currently a ballot issue, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said.

Other lobbying efforts

A lobbyist hired by Identity Clark County, Rick Wickman, also worked in Olympia this year to influence state lawmakers. Identity Clark County, an economic development organization pulling for the CRC, paid Wickman more than $800 in April to lobby on issues related to transportation, local and state government, higher education, business, fiscal policy and the environment, according to state lobbying records.

Under state law, Wickman, who is based in Olympia, was required to disclose Identity Clark County's top donors. More than 40 groups contributed at least $500 to Identity Clark County during the past two years, including The Columbian, Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, and the Hilton Vancouver Washington. State law does not require lobbyists to report exactly how much each of those donors contributed to the group that hired the lobbyist.

Wickman also worked this year as a lobbyist for the Port of Vancouver, another supporter of the CRC. The port paid Wickman more than $4,100 to lobby in April on a host of political issues, including transportation, labor and energy.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com