The contest for state commissioner of public lands is shaping up as Democrats against forest-product companies, environmentalists against forest-product companies, and Seattleites against forest-product companies.

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The contest for state commissioner of public lands is shaping up as Democrats against forest-product companies, environmentalists against forest-product companies, and Seattleites against forest-product companies.

At least that’s the way campaign contributions look in what appears to be November’s most competitive statewide race — other than the bitter rematch between Gov. Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi — based on primary results and fundraising.

The lands-commissioner position is often overlooked and little understood by voters. The commissioner oversees 5 million acres of public-trust land and the 1,500-employee state Department of Natural Resources, which regulates state-owned and private-land timber harvest and manages nearly 2.5 million acres of riverbanks, lakeshores and tide flats.

Incumbent Republican Doug Sutherland draws heavily from forest-products, construction, development and mining interests; 126 of his 200 biggest donations come from companies and people in those industries — with the vast majority from forest-product companies. Those 126 donations account for more than one-third of his total $468,000 in campaign cash.

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Democratic challenger Peter Goldmark, who has raised $560,000, has no forest-product companies among his top donors. Instead he leans on Democrats, environmentalists, unions and Seattleites for key support.

The state Democratic Party is his biggest donor with $46,000. Seattle residents are particularly important to Goldmark; almost half of his 200 biggest contributions are from Seattle, and a total of 964 contributions from Seattle have supplied $280,000, or almost half of his campaign cash.

Who’s giving to whom

Sutherland calls Goldmark’s supporters “Seattle-centric and strongly Democrat.” A former Tacoma mayor and Pierce County executive, Sutherland touts himself as a moderate with a balanced approach toward industry and ecology.

That style has prompted many timber companies to write checks to his campaign, but not leading environmental groups, because, Sutherland says, “there are some in the environmental community who just want more.”

“I think people see in me a pragmatic decision-maker who figures out what’s best for a majority of people,” he said.

Goldmark, an Okanogan rancher who also rents a condo in Seattle, counters that his donors don’t have an economic interest in how public lands are managed. “They have more of an altruistic outlook,” he said.

He calls Sutherland’s reliance on natural-resource industries a “reprehensible” conflict of interest. “I think the industry is very happy with the incumbent and know they get what they want, no questions asked.”

Goldmark said the problem with such a conflict was seen in “lax oversight of clear-cuts on steep slopes” that contributed to last year’s dramatic landslides in Lewis County.

A Seattle Times analysis in July found that timber company Weyerhaeuser clear-cut some slopes in Lewis County with scant oversight from geologists at the Department of Natural Resources.

Sutherland maintains the landslides resulted from an exceptionally rare storm. The logging rules in place were designed for the impact of a once-in-a-century storm. “It’s hard to say I could have stopped that storm, through regulation, at the Washington border,” he said.

The Sutherland-Goldmark clash has already seen the duo raise more money than lands-commissioner candidates did in all of 2004. And much more may flow to the race.

PAC moneys

Both sides benefited four years ago from independent campaigns not coordinated with the candidates. In 2004, an industry-funded political-action committee, Committee for Balanced Stewardship, spent more than $300,000 defending Sutherland.

Another group, Mainstream Republicans of Washington, kicked in an additional $32,000 — and then paid a $10,000 fine after state watchdogs found it had violated several election rules, including sending out a flier with a blatantly false claim that Sutherland was endorsed by the Washington Conservation Voters.

On the other side, Seattle environmental lawyer Peter Goldman ponied up $250,000 for a PAC called Citizens for Protecting our Water and Forests. The group spent just under $300,000 in 2004 supporting Sutherland’s opponent Mike Cooper.

This year the industry PAC has already collected more than $400,000 from 13 timber companies. The PAC again plans to support Sutherland, said Anthony Chavez, a spokesman for Weyerhaeuser, which has given $100,000 to the group.

Goldman, the environmental lawyer, isn’t likely to bankroll another independent campaign, said his spokesman.

“He hasn’t said he definitely won’t, but I’m confident he has no plans to do it,” said Kenan Block, adding that it isn’t because Goldman lacks enthusiasm for Goldmark.

Goldman and his wife have contributed the maximum allowed to Goldmark’s campaign.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or

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