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Piling up the green in the race for Washington's public lands commissioner

Forest lands near Skykomish, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter
Forest lands near Skykomish, Washington.

More than $1.2 million has been spent on one of more obscure statewide races in Washington.

That's the battle for public lands commissioner. Democrat Hilary Franz and Republican Steven McLaughlin have each raised over $400,000, and two environmental groups have spent another $400,000 on independent expenditures in the race.

The commissioner is in charge of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which includes Washington’s largest on-call fire department and oversees millions of acres of state land. The current commissioner, Peter Goldmark, isn’t seeking re-election.

Until recently, the fundraising in the race was pretty lopsided: Franz has raised around $475,000 and been boosted by another $287,000 in independent expenditures supporting her campaign.

Much of that money has come from environmental advocates. Peter Goldman, an attorney at the Washington Forest Law Center, contributed $106,000 to Citizens for Our Forests, Our Future and has given $2,000 to Franz directly.

Our Forests, Our Future has spent all its money so far on independent expenditures (IEs) supporting Franz. Goldman also gave $35,000 to Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund, as did his spouse, Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Puget Sound Partnership. Washington Conservation Voters has spent nearly $116,000 in IEs supporting Franz, and another $116,000 in IEs attacking her opponent, Republican Steven McLaughlin.

McLaughlin has disclosed raising over $494,000 so far, with $305,000 of that coming from the state Republican Party this month. No independent expenditures have been made on his behalf. His largest donors (after the Republican Party) are timber companies Sierra Pacific Industries and the Green Diamond Resource Company, along with the Washington Forest Protection Association, which have each given his campaign the $4,000 maximum.

While the Washington Forest Protection Association sounds much like an environmental group, it’s actually a trade group representing private forestland owners and timber companies. In addition to managing forests on its own land, the Department of Natural Resources regulates logging on private land in Washington state.