Eyeing ‘Big Oil’s’ influence on Greene’s port campaign

With $225,000 in cash comes advice, oversight in Vancouver port commission race

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

The fossil fuel industry’s influence in the Port of Vancouver Commission District 1 election didn’t end when Vancouver Energy contributed nearly a quarter-million dollars to the campaign fund of candidate Kris Greene.

Greene’s former campaign strategist Robert Sabo said when Vancouver Energy made its donations, industry and political insiders soon followed, and they directed how the company’s donations would be spent, who should work with the campaign and reshaped the campaign’s message.

“Big Oil is completely dictating where every penny is going,” Sabo said of the donations made by Vancouver Energy.

Greene refused to answer more than 20 questions regarding Sabo’s claims of who is involved with his campaign and what roles they may had or currently have. He offered the following statement:

“These are questions relating to the internal operations of my campaign, and while I am happy to discuss my campaign tactics and strategies fully after the election, these questions now are at best a distraction and at worst a diversion for my campaign and supporters.”

The race between Greene and his opponent, Don Orange, is highly contentious and seen by many as a referendum on Vancouver Energy’s oil terminal project. Orange has been a vocal opponent of the project. Voting to cancel the port’s lease with Vancouver Energy is the principal plank in his campaign platform.

Greene, an insurance agent, has close ties to Vancouver Energy that began even before he announced his candidacy. In October 2016, he authored a post on Vancouver Energy’s website that highly praised the company. He also served on the company’s Community Fund Advisory Board, which helps the company’s charitable arm identify community grant recipients, although he stepped down prior to starting his campaign.

In March, when the current commission was weighing whether to continue the lease with Vancouver Energy, Greene wrote an email to the port commissioners with the subject line, “I Support the Oil Terminal at the Port Of Vancouver.” A line near the end that finished the email said that the port commission should “bring the oil terminal home.”

As a candidate he’s stated he is in support of the state’s ongoing evaluation of the project but has refused to take a position on the terminal itself.

Vancouver Energy donated $75,000 to Greene in late August, and $150,000 in early October. Combined, the donations comprise more than 80 percent of his campaign war chest.

If it is built, the $210 million terminal would handle an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day, carried by unit trains from the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota and stored and shipped out of the Port of Vancouver by water, bound for oil refineries along the West Coast. The company promises it will bring more than 1,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs and pump as much as $2 billion into the local and regional economy. However, its critics say the risks to the environment and human health outweigh the benefits.

Campaign insiders

Among the members of Greene’s campaign advisory committee are Vancouver Energy General Manager Jared Larrabee. The group also includes Bruce Boram, a Seattle-based political consultant who works with organizations that push and advocate for fossil fuel projects around the state, including the Vancouver Energy oil terminal.

Neither are being paid by the campaign.

Sabo claims that shortly after Vancouver Energy made its $75,000 campaign contribution  Boram stepped into the picture and began playing an outsized role in orchestrating how the Greene campaign operates, whom it brings in, and how Greene and his campaign communicate.

“Kris is following orders,” Sabo said. “He’s being told what he’s going to pay for and where that money is being spent.”

Sabo and Greene became friends after meeting in church several years ago. When Greene decided to run for the port commission Sabo became his campaign strategist and contributed more than $11,500 in cash and in-kind donations.

“I was his biggest supporter, period, not only financially, but emotionally,” Sabo said. “I called him every day for six months.”

But Sabo left the campaign in early September, shortly after Vancouver Energy gave Greene $75,000. Sabo said he did so on his own accord after becoming fed up with the direction the campaign was headed, failing to convince Greene to reject the outside influences and being dishonest about his support for the oil terminal.

“That whole baloney about ‘supporting the process’ is information that he was fed from Vancouver Energy in order to best solve the ‘You’re for the oil terminal’ and him never admitting that he was for the oil terminal — when, all along, he is,” Sabo said.

In an email Greene flatly denied that he supports the project.

“Regardless of who asserts my support for the terminal, I have taken great pains to clarify my position as follows:

“My position on Terminal 5 is clear — if (the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council) determines that the Terminal 5 Energy Transfer Station is environmentally safe — then I am FOR the project and the economic benefits it will produce for us. If EFSEC determines that the project is environmentally unsafe — then I am against the project.”

Vancouver Energy is a joint venture of Tesoro Corp. (now called Andeavor) and Savage Cos. Andeavor’s vice president of state government affairs, Dan Riley, said the Vancouver Energy officials have connections with Boram, but its involvement with the Greene campaign is “pretty limited really.”

“Jared is on the steering committee, that’s it,” he said.

Boram is a contractor with Keep Washington Competitive, a trade-focused group of unions, businesses and agricultural groups. The group actively promoted and rallied support for the coal terminals that were considered for Longview and Cherry Point, and Vancouver Energy. Boram said he’s passionate about seeing projects like the terminal getting built. This race is seen as deciding the swing vote on the oil terminal lease, with Commissioner Jerry Oliver in favor and Commissioner Eric LaBrant opposed.

When it became obvious that Greene and Orange were the only two in candidates in the race, he did his research on Greene and found that the political newcomer to be “kind of a blank slate” but still the obvious choice between the two.

“While Kris has come in and said he supports the process … that’s fine,” Boram said. “We know that Kris is dedicated to that and fulfilling the commitments of the port.”

Campaign polls

Boram said he stepped into the campaign at an intense moment just before Sabo left. He rejected the notion that “Big Oil” is controlling how the spending is being made, adding that he and Greene’s advisory committee aren’t doing anything more than making suggestions.

“I will say this: whenever a campaign like this gets a lot of money, you worry about it,” Boram said. “I did make some suggestions on people they should work with. …  I wanted a campaign I care about to have people that are going to do right by the campaign.”

If campaign emails provided to The Columbian by Sabo are any indication, he likely did more than make suggestions.

On Sept. 1, Boram emailed Greene, Sabo and Greene’s campaign manager Brook Pell about expenses related to polling. 

“Brook:

Please see attached invoice from Moore Information for the poll.

Please pay the whole thing when the money becomes available.

Thanks,

Bruce”

The poll surveyed potential voters by gender and political party affiliation about their feelings on the terminal and the candidates, among other things. Results were not made public.

Sabo said that information has shaped how the campaign has developed its messaging.

D.C. strategist

On Aug. 30 Boram wrote to Greene, Sabo and Pell:

“Kris:

See attached résumé. George will be here Tuesday.

Bruce”

Attached is the résumé of George Jamerson, Greene’s current field/political director. According to his LinkedIn profile, Jamerson is a research and policy analyst with DCI Group. He’s from the  Washington, D.C. area with a background in researching energy, transportation and writing “policy and intel/opposition reports.”

DCI is a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and public relations firm. According to its website, it “employ(s) a campaign-style approach to execute a winning strategy for your legislative, regulatory and communications battles. We help our clients develop their strongest messages, reframe conversations, and recruit like-minded friends and allies to amplify their position.”

The Center for Media and Democracy, a left-leaning organization that describes itself as “a nonprofit investigative reporting group,” characterizes DCI as having strong ties to Republican politics and working on big business issues at the national, state and local levels.

Early in the decade, the company was involved with work to undermine post-recession efforts to regulate the financial industry. It has lobbied for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group aiming to keep coal in the national energy mix. Last April, DCI was subpoenaed by the U.S. Virgin Islands U.S. attorneys as part of an investigation into Exxon Mobil’s work to fund climate change denial groups.

Greene replied to Boram’s email a couple hours later.

“Will he need access to our new office? I’ll add him to the list as well.”

Breaking the news

Another email chain details how the Greene campaign worked with Vancouver Energy officials to figure out how to tell the public about Vancouver Energy’s $75,000 donation. In an interview with The Columbian, Sabo said the press release Greene referenced was originally produced by Vancouver Energy, was rewritten by Greene, and then submitted for final approval from Vancouver Energy.

On Friday, Sept. 1 Greene writes to Sabo, Boram, Pell, Riley, Larrabee, and others: 

“I have re-written the press release shared earlier. I believe this speaks to our challenge of meeting our opponents dead on, which we have to do in a very thoughtful manner. … The Columbian will have a hay day (sic) if we fail to mention the dollar amount. I am proud of the work my team and I have done to engendered (sic) the support of Vancouver Energy.”

He also asks for Boram to schedule a conference call for the following Monday.

Boram replies to Greene and the others on Saturday, Sept. 2:

“I will take a look as (sic) this and let you know my thoughts. 9am (sic) Monday works for me but we have to make sure it sure it (sic) works for Dan and Jared. This press release cannot go out until they sign off on the press release content and timing.”

The following Monday, Boram tells Riley and Larrabee that Greene reworked the press release and would like to discuss it on the call on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Around noon on Sept. 5, Pell emails Greene, Riley, Larrabee, Boram and Sabo with a formatted version of the press release that will go out to the public:

“Dan & Jared, We are going to refrin (sic) from speaking to the Press (sic) for 2-3 days to allow the story to cycle, we ask that Vancouver Energy do the same. Additionally, if Vancouver Energy decides to put out a press release, if it can reflect the message in our release- that would be helpful and preferred.”

Minutes later, Boram replies:

“We still have minor edits. I will forward them shortly.”

A couple hours later Boram sends Greene two versions of the release, “a clean version” and another that shows the changes made.

That day, the $75,000 donation was reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission and Greene posted the final version of the news release on his Facebook page.

On Thursday, Sept. 7, Greene didn’t respond to The Columbian’s request for comment. But Jeff Hymas, a Vancouver Energy spokesman, did.

“Kris is his own man,” he wrote in an email. “Kris has been very transparent and forthcoming in acknowledging our contribution.”