Environmental groups have become some of the biggest spenders in U.S. politics this election. Washington state is no exception.
The Washington Conservation Voters political action committee (WCV PAC) has poured some $425,000 into about 10 state legislative races. In each case, fossil fuel interests have funded campaigns on the other side.
“We are focused on electing candidates, re-electing candidates, supporting people who are going to be environmental champions,” said Alyssa Macy, CEO of the Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Conservation Voters.
She says this year, the big challenge has been convincing donors that it’s not just the federal races that matter — because local laws are often where the rubber meets the road.
“We are past the time where doing the status quo type of work is good enough,” Macy said, adding that it is above all policies related to preventing and adapting to climate change that drive the urgency of this spending. “I think Washington has been a leader in this country as it relates to environmental policy. We have the greenest governor in the nation and there's some real opportunity here to set the standard for the rest of the country.”
Climate policies such as Washington’s clean-fuel standard have repeatedly hit gridlock in a divided Legislature. She says in tight races, spending on targeted digital ads and mailers is more important than ever.
Political science professor Aseem Prakash, the founding director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington, says he was amazed to see how the WCV PAC seems to have outspent energy companies in the races they are targeting. But he says they seem to be targeting contests that were close in prior election cycles — and that’s a strategy that could pay off.
“Typically, one would say, you know, after Citizens United, Republicans are the beneficiaries of the system. I don't think that's true any longer,” Prakash said. “Democrats by far are benefiting from the system.”
In close races, he says voter turnout will be a deciding factor — and election spending that motivates people to vote who might otherwise stay home.
Nationally, spending from the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund PAC surpassed $7 million this summer. In 2016, that group spent only a little more than $100,000.