Old growth money.
Timber families apply the biggest muscle to politics within the borders of Lane County, toppling every other interest group.
They've financed recent record-breaking campaigns to keep pro-business Lane County commissioners in office and capture a conservative majority on the Eugene City Council, an analysis of campaign contributions shows.
In another notable victory, they outspent environmentalists and other landuse planning advocates two years ago to win approval of the West Eugene Parkway.
And today, they're engaged in behind-the-scenes jockeying to prepare for the May 2004 primary, with an eye toward solidifying their gains and reclaiming more territory.
The Register-Guard examined campaign contributions in all local races in Eugene, Springfield and Lane County in the past five years. The analysis found that the top 20 contributors were mostly captains of industry who have long commanded local charitable work, civic life and politics in the Northwest.
The big timber names on the list come straight from Lane County history, but they're still very much in today's political game: The No. 1 and 2 donors are Seneca Sawmill Co. founder Aaron Jones and Bohemia timber founder L.L. "Stub" Stewart, followed closely by Frontier Resources' timber land dealer Greg Demers at No. 5.
Together, timber-connected donors have dropped more than $200,000 into local races since 1998, routinely writing $500 or $1,000 checks to their favorite candidates.
The real estate and development sector was just behind timber with donations exceeding $176,000. And many of those real estate firms - including ones belonging to the Giustina and Woolley families -are backed by timber fortunes that have diversified over the years.
The old timber families "held sway in this community forever and that has declined over the years," said David Funk, a Eugene advertising agency co-owner and observer of the local political scene. "They're fighting with what they have, and that's plenty of money."
Growth is king
Led by the timber interests, the top 20 donors are virtually all linked by one thing: They support growth in some measure - usually a big measure as indicated by the trends in their giving.
Many of them are flush with property: The Giustinas, for instance, hold large tracts of the McKenzie watershed. Don Woolley and partner Tom Connor own block after block of downtown Eugene. Greg Demers has acres of commercial, industrial and timber real estate on the west side of Eugene.
Aaron Jones has eight acres of prime land on the southwest side of Eugene's Gillespie Butte - near the Oakway Golf Course and the tony Spyglass neighborhood - that he'd like to develop some day.
Outside of timber and real estate, many of the other donors come from companies that make their money improving land. They supply heavy equipment to construction, they mine gravel to pave roads and they build bridges, warehouses and shopping centers.
As a general group, the donors want to buy and sell land, put their construction companies to work, get governments to add roads and other public works to support their developments and get tax breaks to attract new firms to fill the developments, donor interviews and analysis shows. And they look to government to clear the way for all of the above.
"All the way down (the donor list), it's sectors that are dependent on growth," said Jack Roberts, the former state and local politician who now is director of Lane Metro Partnership, a business recruitment agency.
Almost all of the top 20 donors have supported pro-business county Commissioners Bobby Green and Anna Morrison, driving campaign war chests in their last races to record levels of more than $100,000 each. And campaign finance records show the donors are beginning to like Lane Community College Board member Jay Bozievich since he switched his party affiliation from Libertarian to Republican.
They backed first-time Eugene City Council candidates George Poling and Jennifer Solomon, who won election and delivered a pro-business majority to the council. Newcomer Solomon is the granddaughter of retired mill owner Stub Stewart. "She's doing her best to get them straightened out, and she's very popular," her grandfather said.
Several of the top 20 donors are major contributors to the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce's new "C-PAC" political action committee dedicated to doing "anything that might help a candidate get elected," said David Hauser, the chamber's executive director.
"If people sitting in the council seats don't value the contribution of a healthy economy, then we're spinning our wheels," he said. "It was time to take the next step."
Eight of the top 20 donors supported, in dollar or deed, the pro-business Gang of 9 political action committee that lambasted Eugene's liberal establishment in paid political advertisements two years ago.
Most of the donors also magnify their political effectiveness by belonging to business groups that employ expert lobbyists to track a candidate's decision-making after an election. The chamber's Terry Connolly regularly attends Eugene City Council meetings. Lane County Homebuilders' lobbyist Roxie Cuellar is attentive to zoning and design issues as they come before Eugene councilors and county commissioners. Jim Welsh attends the meetings on behalf of the Eugene Association of Realtors and other business interests.
"A lot of money and a high level of sophistication gets you a high level of impact," said Tony Bieda, lobbyist for the Lane County government. "Money alone is not sufficient; you need sophistication."
Additionally, five of the top 20 donors have direct, million-dollar business relationships with the governments they try to influence, including - over the past five years - $70 million for PeaceHealth, $24 million for the Chambers family, $10 million for Wildish Construction and $5 million for Delta Sand & Gravel.
The Chambers family's $24 million in government contracts may sound big, but "it's less than 10 percent of our work," said Carolyn Chambers, who heads the family's media and construction businesses.
The contracts are awarded through a bidding process and therefore have no relationship to the political donations the firms give to city and county officials, she said.
"There's no question that people in the construction business have a concern with what's going on, but there's no opportunity to affect who gets contracts," said Roberts, the Lane Metro Partnership leader.
On the other hand, former Springfield Mayor John Lively said governments can write job specifications to fit certain companies or hold the bidding period open for the benefit of others.
The process isn't 100 percent antiseptic, said Lively, currently senior manager at Software Spectrum. "Politics can enter in. Politicians can play all kinds of games."
But why wouldn't firms doing business with government want to establish cordial relationships with candidates, said Bieda, the county government lobbyist. "That's called enlightened self-interest to know who your customers are and who the individual decision makers are," he said.
Behind the scenes
Though their money calls the shots in some political races, the old timber families at the foundation of power here are largely unseen and out of public consciousness. Urban dwellers no longer see dozens of logging trucks rolling down main street. News reports from the woods are more likely to be about the decline in the cut or the fight over proposed thinning practices than they are about the lives and times of the remaining loggers.
The timber families do little to call attention to their political deeds. Most rarely make public statements and their pictures seldom appear in news stories. In fact, half of the top 20 donors either declined to be interviewed for this story or didn't return phone calls left at their offices over several weeks.
Two notable exceptions to the more quiet approach are Stub Stewart, the prominent timber man who served two terms in the state Legislature in the 1950s and has been generous with his opinions ever since, and Gary Pape, the youngest of the two Pape brothers and a second-term Eugene City Council member.
Lane County's most generous political donor, 82-year-old Aaron Jones of Eugene, declines to speak with reporters and is seldom seen in city council or county commissioner chambers. He occasionally contributes guest opinions to the newspaper when he feels moved by an issue such as forest thinning practices, but readers wouldn't know him by sight.
"When you're the only person and you're the patriarch, you don't have the time," said Dale Riddle, vice president for legal affairs at Jones' sawmill company.
The same is true with the 18th name on the list - the Woolley family, matriarch Donna Woolley said. "If it's going to be a real time-consumer, they're not going to take the time unless it's really something that hits their working area," she said.
But Eugene political commentator Don Kahle, who publishes the Comic News, believes instead that the donors simply prefer to act in secret. "They want to put on a flannel shirt and move among us. They present themselves as shy regular Joes, but, you see, this isn't very regular," he said.
Political giving just seems too personal to talk about, said sixth-largest donor Alan Dale Babb, co-owner of Delta Sand & Gravel. "It's like you want to know why I'm a Lutheran," he said. "You know the old saying, `You're not to discuss religion and politics.' '
And though they don't want to be seen, the timber families on the list would like the public to appreciate that it was the logging industry that built the cities of Lane County - and timber that supports large segments of the community still.
If Lane County were a state, it would be the 11th largest lumber producer and the fifth largest plywood producer in the United States, a September 2003 Lane Council of Governments report showed.
Oregon is the No. 1 producer of both lumber and plywood in the United States; within Oregon, Lane County is the largest producer of lumber and the second largest producer of plywood. Five-thousand county people still earn a living from the woods, including 400 at Aaron Jones' Seneca Sawmill along Highway 99 north of Eugene.
"Politicians would fall all over themselves for that kind of industry," said Riddle, the Seneca vice president. "It bothers us a lot that the community doesn't recognize how important timber is."
Ideology plays role
But the motivation behind giving goes beyond immediate business interests to the realm of ideology.
Almost all of the top donors are free market-loving Republicans, and several will tell you that they can't bear to watch the actions of self-described progressives on the Eugene City Council. They say the source of the trouble is clear: liberal faculty members at the University of Oregon.
Their ire dates back to November 1986, when citizen activists passed an initiative that declared Eugene a nuclear free zone, with the potential to restrict residents from investing in firms that held nuclear-related civilian or military contracts.
The business owners asked, "What's next?" Lively remembers. "What's the next thing they'll do that will affect my business directly?"
The answer: environmentalism. Timber families were faced with the prospect that young, idealistic university students would try to stop them from logging both public and private forest land in the Northwest.
"The (university) is getting more liberal all the time," Stub Stewart said. "If it hadn't been for Dave Frohnmayer, the law school would have been gone. They'd gotten so liberal they were almost against business."
In recent decades, activists have fought the proposed widening of Sixth and Seventh avenues; they blocked the expansion of Ferry Street Bridge to six lanes. And the granddaddy of all fights: Environmentalists have stalled construction of a major thoroughfare to the western edge of town - the West Eugene Parkway - for 20 years.
But it was the ascension of Kevin Hornbuckle to the Eugene City Council in 1992 that drove donor Alan Dale Babb to act. "I didn't appreciate that we had an avowed communist on the council," he said. "I'd switch on Channel 11, and it made me sick."
Today, by many accounts, Eugene Councilor Bonny Bettman is the liberal politician that the big conservative donors most love to hate.
The alternative newspaper The Eugene Weekly also gets under their skin by giving what some see as unfair free campaign coverage to liberal candidates such as Jim Weaver in his 1996 campaign for Eugene mayor and Kitty Piercy in her 2000 race for county commissioner. "It's worth money, and it doesn't get counted" in campaign finance records," said Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey, No. 15 on the donor list.
The top donors say they have to spend big to balance out the environmentalists, the controlled-growth activists and the free publicity.
"When you understand that, the amount of money they give and the continual escalation makes sense," said Chris Matson, chief of staff to state Rep. Bob Ackerman, D-Eugene. "They need to spend a huge amount of money to counteract the huge amount of networks and huge amount of resources that activists already have."
That's a major preoccupation of top donor Aaron Jones. At all levels of government, he puts his money behind conservative candidates - even when they're facing off against a popular liberal in a ward that's prone to electing liberals. No liberal candidate gets a free ride in races that catch his interest.
So, three-quarters of the campaign money that Jones spends locally goes to candidates or measures that lose on Election Day.
"We don't pander to people who we know are going to win. We try to make a change in the ideology of the bodies we're giving to," said Riddle, the Seneca Sawmill official. "We're changing the context from liberal to conservative."
TOP CAMPAIGN DONORS BY SECTOR 1998-2003
In Lane County
1. Aaron Jones, 82: Founder of a world-class sawmill, elk hunter, race horse owner and backer of long-shot conservative candidates. His is the most anticipated arrival at Lane County Republicans' annual Lincoln Day dinner.
2. Stub Stewart, 92: Built his family's Bohemia timber company from one to a dozen mills fed by 79,000 acres of company-owned forestland. Former state legislator and noontime fixture at high-rise Town Club in downtown Eugene.
3. Deborah Noble, 54: Makes her living in the otherwise conservative wood products industry, but is an activist in land use, environmental and progressive causes. Considered the patron saint of the Friends of Eugene.
4. Jaqua family: Father John, 83, is a career lawyer and Nike board member with philanthropic interests in UO athletics, medicine and the planetarium. Son Jon (shown), 55, is a farmer, businessman and conservationist.
5. Greg Demers, 45: A Veneta timber dealer who once threatened to sue the Eugene City Council if it stood in the way of profits from the West Eugene Parkway project. Major benefactor to the Fern Ridge Library and Camp Wilani.
Today: Lane County's top political donors push growth
Monday: A closer look at some of the players
Tuesday: How money influences campaigns
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|Title Annotation:||Elections; Timber families are county's largest political donors|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Dec 21, 2003|
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