The story of the election so far, in terms of who won the counting of the votes, is that it was a clean sweep around here for the Democrats.
But the reality for most of the Washington state congressional delegation is that they’ve been demoted. Due to the GOP winning back control of the U.S. House, the state’s eight House Democrats, fresh off victories, are about to be relegated to the backbencher status of being in the minority.
Mostly overlooked then has been the state’s real biggest winner (after U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, of course). That would be U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican who represents the far east side of the state.
She wasn’t overlooked by the nation’s big money interests, though.
Even with an easy campaign that attracted very little attention or opposition spending, McMorris Rodgers still is finishing the year as the No. 1 recipient of PAC contributions for any House candidate in the nation.
Corporations and other interest groups use PACs, or political action committees, to funnel money to favored politicians. McMorris Rodgers not only raked in more from PACs than any of the other 800 or so House candidates in all 50 states this year, but her nearly $3 million from corporate PACs also outpaced the runner-up, a Republican congressman from Illinois, by nearly 40%, according to the Committee for Responsible Politics, which tracks the money game at opensecrets.org.
Why would such a safe seat be a honey pot for corporate cash?
Money in politics often flows toward conflict, such as tight, noisy, important campaigns. But money also flows quietly in anticipation of power.
With Republicans taking the House, McMorris Rodgers is set to take command of the Energy and Commerce Committee. This is no small deal — especially for Big Oil, which wants to drill more on federal land, or for climate change activists and environmentalists, who are trying to stop them.
The committee is known as one of Congress’ “money committees,” because it oversees such a range of industries, from big energy to drugs to health insurance. A watchdog group once pored over campaign finance records and concluded that just being on this committee means a $340,000 bump in fundraising, including an average of $200,000 more in PAC contributions from companies looking to butter up its members.
McMorris Rodgers’ $3 million in PAC contributions (she raised $6 million overall) comes from every industry imaginable, including telecom, drugmakers, bankers, airlines, insurance and Big Tech such as Microsoft and Amazon.
One of her largest categories is oil and gas, with donations from Koch Industries, Marathon Petroleum, Chevron, Southwest Gas, Occidental Petroleum and so on. McMorris Rodgers scored $270,000 in oil and gas contributions — more than the rest of Washington state’s 12-member congressional delegation combined, federal finance reports show.
She has been open about using her new position to push for drill, baby, drill. She calls it “flip the switch.”
“We need to Flip the Switch on American energy now to bring down costs,” she said in a recent Energy and Commerce news release, meaning ramping up “coal, oil, natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear power.”
Notice that coal and oil get first billing, while solar and wind are not mentioned at all. McMorris Rodgers has been one of Congress’ top skeptics of a green energy transition, as well as a booster for coal mining, restarting the Keystone oil pipeline, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and selling more oil-drilling leases on federal lands and offshore waters.
All of this forecasts a showdown over green energy and climate change. McMorris Rodgers has signaled she plans to launch investigations of the climate change grants and programs approved by Democrats last summer, which she dubbed “Solyndra on steroids” (after the solar company that went bankrupt during the Obama administration).
“It’s critical that we are not wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on a political agenda that is forcing a green energy transition that jeopardizes our reliability and increases costs,” she said last week.
Conservative groups are pushing Republicans to simply abolish Congress’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. (Because if it’s not there holding meetings, then it’s no longer a crisis?)
“It’s going to be an incredibly adversarial, hostile, confrontational Congress,” one environmentalist predicted, to Energy and Environment News.
Other environmentalists said they’re hoping that with split control of the House and Senate, maybe there will just be gridlock, instead of the major setbacks on green energy policy they were fearing.
For example: Staring down McMorris Rodgers across the Capitol rotunda is almost certain to be Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell. Because Democrats kept control of the Senate, Cantwell and McMorris Rodgers now are essentially opposite numbers. Cantwell took over the Senate’s Commerce Committee last year, and also sits on Senate Energy and Natural Resources, where she has been a longtime advocate for green energy and foe of more oil drilling.
Where does Cantwell rank in PAC donations? At the bottom, because she doesn’t take corporate PAC donations. (She has $0 reported for her upcoming campaign.)
All of this means that the nation’s energy change battle will now be waged in large measure through proxies in Washington state. East side versus west, old energy versus new, two former state legislators turned political power players on the national stage.
It would maybe be entertaining. Except the quiet money doesn’t often lose. Plus it’s only the planet’s climate potentially hanging in the balance.