League of Conservation Voters putting environment first

Posted: Sunday, May 21, 2000

SEATTLE (AP) -- The League of Conservation Voters wants Washingtonians to be thinking about the environment when they go into voting booths during the fall elections.

The League plans a $700,000 summertime campaign of television ads that will tug at viewers' heartstrings.

It's part of a blitz also directed at voters in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Montana and parts of California. All five states are closely contested in the presidential race and have House and Senate races that will be pivotal to the control of Congress.

''No politicians' names appear in the ads,'' said Teresa Purcell, the league's Northwest coordinator. The ads are officially an education campaign designed to ''raise this issue in the voters' minds.''

But Republicans appear to be the targets.

Republican senators are up for re-election in four of the five states, and have rock-bottom scores ranging from zero to 11, of a possible 100, on the league's national environmental scorecard of Senate votes. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., was given an 11.

One spot shows a little girl standing with a coal plant in the background, as a narrator intones: ''Our kids depend on clean air and water laws.

''But the politicians who make those laws are taking millions from polluters and protecting them, instead of our kids.''

Another ad talks about rising asthma rates among young children, and concludes: ''Corporate polluters give politicians millions so they'll gut our clean air and water laws. But we can stop them.''

Both ads end with a two-word message: ''Vote environment.''

The league's TV buy dwarfs the modest cable TV and radio effort that the Sierra Club has mounted against the environmental voting record of Gorton, and in praise of Democratic Reps. Jay Inslee and Adam Smith.

It also indicates that ''issue advocacy'' groups are preparing to spend millions of dollars to influence this state's voters in key House races as well as Gorton's bid for a fourth Senate term.

While national polls show the environment as an issue of medium importance, environmental controversies have lately loomed large in the state's political debate.

Hot topics include a proposed gold mine in Okanogan County, debate over whether four Snake River dams should be breached to assure survival of salmon and the Clinton administration's push to create a national monument in the 51-mile-long Hanford Reach of the Columbia River.

Gorton has opposed the national monument proposal.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said this week he will make a recommendation within 30 days on federal protection for the last undammed stretch of the river between Bonneville Dam and the Canadian border.

In turn, Democratic Senate candidate Maria Cantwell traveled earlier this week to the site of a proposed mine in Okanogan County.

She made the detour to decry a controversial legislative maneuver by Gorton on behalf of the mine.

Last year, Gorton attached legislative language overturning a Forest Service ruling against the mine to a spending bill for U.S. military operations in Kosovo.

The League of Conservation Voters plans to spend $14 million on congressional campaigns this year--by national standards, a relatively modest amount.

In 1998, the insurance industry donated $31 million to campaigns across the country, while attorneys and lawyers groups gave $59 million.

A group sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, called Citizens for Better Medicare, has already spent more money on TV spots than the league intends to commit during the entire year.

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