Follow the money back to Jordan Cove
Campaign cash from Jordan Cove has flowed to local candidates through the political arm of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, raising red flags among LNG pipeline opponents who have directed their ire against Senate Republican candidate Jessica Gomez.
Rep. Pam Marsh and judicial candidate Joe Davis have rejected the contributions they received from the PAC, with Marsh calling it “tainted” money.
Joyce Chapman, a Shady Cove resident who has been part of the opposition to the proposed pipeline that would traverse 232 miles in Southern Oregon, questions politicians who say they oppose the project but take cash that originated from Jordan Cove.
“If people can be bought off for that, I’m very sad,” she said.
Jordan Cove LNG, the political action committee for Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp., has made political contributions totaling $214,500 this year across Oregon, but one-third of that money — $70,000 — has gone to the ChamberPAC. Even though Pembina is Canadian, Jordan Cove is a limited liability company registered in Delaware with an office in Salem and can legally contribute to political campaigns, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
The $70,000 represents 63 percent of the $111,550 in contributions received by the ChamberPAC this year.
Gomez, who is running against Democrat Jeff Golden and said she opposes the pipeline, has received donations of $27,500 from the PAC, the most of any candidate. Knute Buehler, Republican for governor who supports the pipeline project, has gotten the second highest amount from the PAC at $25,000, followed by Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer at $20,000.
Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts and Medford City Councilor Kim Wallan, who is running for state representative, each received $10,000.
The ChamberPAC has a separate board of trustees than the board of directors of the chamber itself, of which Gomez is vice chair.
In an Aug. 3 letter from the chamber to the Oregon Department of Energy, Brad Hicks, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said his organization supports Jordan Cove’s proposal because it would offer a significant economic benefit to the region. On the letter, the chamber board of directors is listed, including Gomez.
The amount of money Gomez has received through the ChamberPAC financed by Jordan Cove leaves Chapman with a lot of questions.
“Politicians need money to get elected,” she said. “There is a lot of money in the race against Golden. It seems to me that when people give money, they expect something to happen.”
Chapman said she views with alarm the amount of money Jordan Cove is throwing around the state even as the project received 40,000 comments in opposition.
For those who live in this region and raise families or retire, the consequences of having a pipeline go through would be devastating, Chapman said.
Echoing a sentiment made on social media, Chapman thinks it’s also problematic having a company not based in Oregon having such an influence on our elections.
“A foreign company is a member of our chamber,” she said.
Gomez said she’s not returning the money to the ChamberPAC and that the money will in no way affect her stance against the Jordan Cove project.
“I don’t support the project, I never supported the project,” she said. “There is no reason to return anything.”
She said the ChamberPAC supports business-friendly candidates, and there has never been any discussion about taking a particular stance on an issue in exchange for campaign dollars.
Gomez’s stance on the pipeline issue has taken on a life of its own on social media, with a photo showing her raising a “yes” and a “no” sign when questioned about Jordan Cove at the Southern Oregon Climate Action Now forum. Golden raised a “yes” sign.
Gomez said the question about Jordan Cove was hypothetical and difficult to answer with either a “yes” or a “no.” SOCAN said on its website the question was whether candidates would urge state departments to deny Jordan Cove permits, and that a “yes” and “no” meant “maybe.”
Gomez said her answer in no way reflects any indecision on her part, or her conviction that she definitely doesn’t support the Jordan Cove proposal.
While Republican candidates are getting the most financial help from the ChamberPAC, Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, has instructed her staff to return a $500 contribution she received from the PAC.
“The ChamberPAC is tainted,” she said.
Despite her concerns, Marsh said she’s had a good relationship with the chamber, citing in particular the work done on a state transportation package.
“The Medford chamber and I have many areas of agreement,” she said.
Joe Davis, candidate for Jackson County Circuit Court judge, rejected a $2,500 contribution from the PAC, citing the potential for a conflict if the Jordan Cove proposal is challenged in the courts.
“When I became aware of the Jordan Cove contribution to the ChamberPAC, I felt it was inappropriate as a judicial candidate to accept the ChamberPAC’s donation,” Davis said.
“It seems likely that the Jordan Cove matter may likely end up in litigation.”
Opponents of the pipeline have said the project would be too environmentally risky, especially since plans called for crossing numerous waterways, including the Rogue River.
Supporters have argued the project and an export terminal north of Coos Bay would create jobs and boost natural gas exports.
Dyer said it’s a testament to the ChamberPAC that it made a contribution to his campaign even though the county has taken an official stance opposing Jordan Cove.
“The money doesn’t sway me,” he said. “It’s not going to change my position.”
He said the ChamberPAC represents business interests in the region and picks candidates with similar interests.
“I’m proud of the fact the business community so strongly supports me,” he said.
Wallan, R-Medford, said, “I’m happy and proud to be endorsed by the ChamberPAC and business interests.”
She said the donation is a vote of confidence in her and is in no way an attempt to buy her vote.
Wallan said she supports Jordan Cove but not if it means using eminent domain to secure the rights to private property.
“As long as they pay what they need to pay to the landowners to make it work,” she said.
If a landowner refuses to sell to Jordan Cove, she said the company needs to find another route even if it means creating a longer pipeline.
In general, she supports pipelines as a way to transport natural gas rather than using trucks, which are worse for the environment.
“There are many pipelines bringing lots of products to us, and they’re safe,” she said.
Wallan said she’s surprised the focus is on the ChamberPAC or on Jordan Cove, when unions supporting public employees are funneling lots of cash into campaigns this season as well.
Hicks, president and CEO of the chamber, said he doesn’t see anything unusual about receiving money from Jordan Cove and then sending a portion of that money to candidates the chamber feels are business-friendly.
He said Jordan Cove never told the chamber what to do with the money.
“They trust our PAC board to do the right thing,” he said.”It’s all in good faith.”
Even though the chamber has endorsed the Jordan Cove project, the PAC has decided to make more than $40,000 in contributions to candidates who don’t support Jordan Cove, which is a chamber member, Hicks said.
Hicks said Gomez is on the chamber board but never has been on the board of trustees for the ChamberPAC.
Michael Hinrichs, a spokesman for Jordan Cove, said his company supports organizations that share the company’s interests in economic development.
He didn’t respond to several questions sent by email. Instead, he summed up his response in an email, “We are members of the Medford chamber and its PAC supports economic development in Southern Oregon and is solely responsible for who they make contributions to.”