Thursday, October 7, 2010

..Gravel industry fuels GOP coffers..

..Flurry of contributions come with contentious gravel hearing looming..
Of the News-Register

Yamhill County Commissioner Leslie Lewis, poised to vote next month on a hotly contested gravel mining proposal from Baker Rock Resources, sought and obtained a series of gravel company contributions last month for the county's Republican Party coffers.
She said they were for an election-eve voters guide touting the party's local legislative state and gubernatorial candidates-and possibly an ideologically compatible in a nonpartisan county commission race.
Though term limit rules prevent Lewis from running again, she also accepted a $1,000 contribution from one of the firms, Meisel Rock Products, to her own campaign fund.
She said the company is headed by an old friend who simply wanted to help her pay off about $10,000 of her $20,000 in campaign debt-the part not owed to her family business. She said it was not related to either the pending gravel mining application or the Republican Party voter's guide project.
On Saturday, Sept. 25, the GOP recorded a $1,000 donation from Baker Rock itself. It was intended for the voter's guide project, according to President Todd Baker.
On Monday, Sept. 27, the ostensibly nonpartisan county commission campaign of Mary Starrett-not a Republican, but a kindred ideological spirit who has been embraced by local Republican officials-recorded a $1,000 donation from the party.
If she succeeds in ousting two-term incumbent Mary Stern, Starrett could end up voting on the Baker Rock proposal in some form.
However, local party leader Dale Stepper said the timing was coincidental; there was no link. He said it should be considered a party contribution, not a Baker Rock or gravel company contribution.
In all, four local gravel companies contributed $4,500 between Sept. 20 and 25. Baker Rock and Meisel were joined by Wilsonville Concrete and Kizer Excavating.
The party received only one other business contribution during the period-a $1,000 contribution from A-Dec, a Newburg-based dental equipment manufacturer that traditionally supports Republicans.
However, Lewis said she had solicited contributions from an array of GOP-oriented individuals and businesses for the voter's guide, not just the gravel industry, and significant contributions would be forthcoming from several of them.
She said she has limited her gravel industry contact to Rich Angstrom, executive director of the Oregon Concrete & Aggregate Producers Association, a long-time associate of hers. She said she would not have solicited any of the companies individually, and most certainly not baker Rock.
Commissioner Kathy George, who joins Lewis and Stern on the three-member body, accepted $4,000 from Meisel for her campaign for re-election in the may primary. At that point the Baker Rock proposal had not reached the planning commission level.
State records indicate gravel interests had not offered her any campaign money since. She confirmed that by phone, adding,"If they had, I would not have taken it"
George, whose Republican Party ties run as deep as those of Lewis, was not aware at the time that her commission colleague had just accepted a $1,000 contribution from Meisel.
Stern, who was aware, said she had not and would not accept gravel industry money under the circumstances. She termed Lewis's acceptance of such money on the eve of the hearing" extremely inappropriate and very unfortunate for the citizens of Yamhill County who expect and deserve impartiality from their commissioners.
Baker Rock is seeking land use approval for a 174 acre quarry at the south end of Grand Island, a local area of sustainable and organic agriculture. That has stirred strong opposition from both environmental and agricultural interests.
Lewis, George and Stern-whose Democratic party affiliation often leaves her the odd person out and has spurred Lewis to campaign ardently for Starrett-are set to open the climatic public hearing on the proposal Nov. 10. That will set the stage for a widely anticipated showdown-but one coming post-election.
Were Starrett to be elected Nov. 2, she would be involved in any future proceedings involving resubmissions or remands stemming from the appellate process.
Baker said the donation and land-use proposal were not related.
He said he was encouraged to give the local GOP $1,000 for it's voter's guide by Angstrom, in his capacity as head of the industry trade association. He said he was not trying to funnel money to starrett or any other candidate, nor had he to his knowledge.
Angstrom said the association had no intention of supporting Starrett either. He said it often supports Republican-affiliated candidates, but only at the state level, where its aim is to influence the makeup of legislation and the Legislature.
He said Lewis had approached him about the project and he had decided the association should get on board.
Stepper said both the flurry of gravel company donations and the party donations to Starrett were coincidental in their timing. He said there was no ill intent in either case.
He said the party had been seeking, and is expecting donations from a range of business interests for the voter's guide project. He said it opted to donate to Starrett-even though she has been sharply critical of the Republican party in her previous capacities as national director for the libertarian-leaning Constitution Party-because it likes her conservative ideology.
Just last year, Starrett said in an online post on News with Views.
"Ive been searching high and low for any signs the RNC has kkowtowed to the conservatives in the party. I can't find one. What I did find was a long list of the party's sellouts of that'right wing' on amnesty,border security,bailouts,spending,guns,abortion,free speech,civil liberties,national sovereignty,industry killers like NAFTA and GATT and the federal takeover of education, to name a few.
"Meanwhile, it seems the left is softening towards the GOP because GOP is softening on the issues. Soft, in this case is not good."
Stepper said that didn't bother him. At the state and national levels, Republicans have not done a good job including true conservatives, he said.
That's not the case in Yamhill County, he said. Starrett's brand of staunch conservatism ideology resonates with local Republicans, he said.
Meisel Rock's $1,000 contribution to Lewis came on Sept. 20, state records show. It was made in the company's name, even though Lewis termed it a personal contribution from the company CEO Lloyd Town.
The next day, Meisel and Kizer Excavating each gave $500 to the county GOP. Wilsonville Concrete gave the party $500 on Sept. 23 and Meisal and Baker Rock each gave $1,000 on Sept. 25, records show.
Lewis said she did not even consider it awkward, let alone unethical to accept campaign money from a local gravel company with a contentious gravel hearing looming. She said she took strong offense at any suggestion.
She said she is prepared to absorb the portion of her campaign debt owed to her family business, but hates to leave a good faith outside lender in the lurch.
In this case, that would be George Advertising, owned by colleague Kathy George and her husband, Gary. State records indicate George Advertising is virtually her sole creditor.
Lewis said she doesn't like to have any debt, either business or personal, so it troubles her as she nears the point of being termlimited into political retirement. She said Town was simply a longtime friend sympathetic to her plight.
She said it's hard for a non candidate to raise money in an election year, so she wasn't inclined to pass up Town's offer. She said Meisel and Baker Rock are staunch competitors in the marketplace, so Town certainly didn't have Baker Rock's interests in mind.
She said the donation would have no effect on her neutrality and objectivity in the hearing.