- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

One group of environmental lobbyists had success this past election with a surprising but effective strategy: supporting Republicans.

The lobbyists, who focus on ocean policy, say they are making a serious effort to find new and returning Republican lawmakers to whom they can give money and support.

“This isn’t being bipartisan for the sake of being bipartisan. This is recognizing how much individuals on both sides can help,” said David Wilmot, president of Ocean Champions, a newly formed group advocating ocean conservation. The group supported five Republicans and nine Democrats this past cycle.

“We knew we could find them,” he said of the five Republicans, adding that they find they have an easier time making their pitch to Republicans about oceans than other environmental groups do about terrestrial issues.

“The key for us is to highlight we’re a ‘blue’ group, not a green group,” he said. “There is no baggage that comes along with us.”

Phil Kline, who oversees the sustainable-fisheries policies at Oceana, another ocean advocacy group, said Republicans have led on issues of ocean conservation for some time. He pointed to the 1996 legislation reauthorizing the Magnuson Act, which protects ocean habitats and combats overfishing. That act was renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Act in recognition of Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

Mr. Wilmot said the ocean movement and its pitch to Republicans, particularly those whose districts border oceans, is where the broader environmental movement was 30 years ago, when it had support from ranchers and sportsmen who have since broken from the environmentalists.

“The lesson for us, and I hope others can learn from it, is it is essential to make it comfortable for all who have a vested interest to become engaged,” he said.

The ocean groups’ strategy runs counter to the general trend among environmental groups. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats received 86 percent of contributions from environmentalists and environment-oriented political action committees in 2004, down from a high of 95 percent in 1994.

Environmental groups’ monetary contributions fall far short of those of other major political players, though their endorsements carry weight among many voters.

Mark Sokolove, press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters, said decisions about whom his group endorses are not based on party but on someone’s past votes and statements on environmental issues.

He pointed to Joe Schwarz, a Republican who won election to a House seat from Michigan, as someone they identified and supported in the party primary.

“We saw a candidate who had a pro-environment record at the state level, and therefore decided to endorse him and ran an aggressive independent campaign,” Mr. Sokolove said.

He said the league will continue to try to find both Republicans and Democrats who can support their goals, and he pointed to the coalition of Democrats and Northeastern Republicans who came together to filibuster the energy bill, and the joint leadership of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, in pushing for global warming legislation.

But with Republicans netting four more seats in the Senate in this year’s elections, the energy bill is more likely to pass and the global warming legislation becomes even less likely, aides and lobbyists said.

Even faced with that, environmentalists may not be able to break away from their devotion to the Democrats, said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy and environmental lobbyist.

“They’ve gotten nothing out of the Democrats for coming on 25 years now, but what they have gotten is a grim, deathlike grip on the stuff that’s already in place,” he said. “Just like it’s beyond the union management’s imagining — the leadership of the environmental organizations, it’s beyond their imagining they could work with Republicans.”

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