Politics & Government

Smell test: Ad suggesting Tami Green supports ‘transportation gridlock’ makes unfounded claims

Republicans opposing the state Senate campaign of state Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, are attacking her for receiving support from California billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer.

But a campaign mailer sent to homes in Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District offers a skewed view of how much money Steyer has spent supporting Green’s campaign, and tries to associate Green with Steyer’s past Australian mining investments to which she has no connection.

The ad is paid for by the Good Government Leadership Council, a group backed by a political committee run by Senate Republicans.

Green is looking to unseat state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, in one of this year’s most costly state legislative races.

The claims: The ad reads, “Meet the Billionaire Bankrolling Tami Green... One of the worst carbon polluters in the world.”

It then introduces Steyer as someone who “has given a million dollars to elect Green and win a Senate majority.” The ad says Steyer is trying to “spread his agenda to Washington,” and that his agenda includes new taxes, $1-a-gallon higher gas prices and “endless transportation gridlock.”

“Tami Green has signed on to the most extreme parts of (Steyer’s) radical agenda” and will represent him rather than Pierce County residents, according to the mailer.

The ad also mentions lead poisoning in Australia connected to a zinc-mining company Steyer’s hedge fund invested in a decade ago, accompanied by Green’s photo and the message, “The Dirty Work Behind Tami Green.”

The facts: Neither Steyer nor his political action committee, NextGen Climate, have spent $1 million on Green’s race. The $1 million figure roughly corresponds to what Steyer and his PAC have spent on all Washington state races this year as they work to elect candidates focused on combating climate change.

The top beneficiary of Steyer’s PAC money, the Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund, has spent just under $300,000 supporting Green and opposing O’Ban.

Steyer’s background as a former hedge fund manager indeed includes investments in fossil fuel companies. As he has become a big-spending environmental activist in the past two years, Steyer has divested himself from many – though not all – of those investments, The New York Times has reported.

Besides receiving support from PACs backed by Steyer, Tami Green has no connection to Steyer’s past investments in fossil fuel companies or mines. Election laws also prohibit Green from consulting or coordinating with the independent expenditure committees that are using Steyer’s money to bolster her campaign.

The claims that Steyer – and by extension, Green – support a $1 increase in the state’s gas tax are also unfounded. What the ad is referring to is a possible clean fuel standard to help reduce carbon emissions, something Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has suggested but not imposed.

The idea of a carbon-fuel standard – which has yet to take the form of a formal proposal – is one Green told The News Tribune she could potentially support. But estimates differ as to how such a standard would affect gas prices.

Republicans have argued that a clean fuel standard could increase the cost of gas by $1 a gallon, but those claims have rested on a report that experts at the University of California at Davis found faults with after conducting a peer review. A consultant hired by Inslee recently said that a carbon-fuel standard could cause gas prices to rise by 10 cents a gallon by 2026.

As for suggesting Green may support “endless transportation gridlock?” Green voted for a House transportation package that would have increased gas prices by about 10 cents per gallon to help fund highway projects throughout the state.

She has said repeatedly that the full Legislature needs to pass a transportation package to help ease traffic congestion and improve the state’s highway infrastructure, as well as make more investments in mass transit.

Still, Stan Shore, the campaign manager for the Good Government Leadership Council that produced the ad, said Green and other Democats’ focus on transit and environmental funding has hampered the Legislature’s ability to commit as much money to highway projects.

Conclusion: Half-true, but makes several several unfounded claims.

Green has supported plans to increase the state’s gas tax to pay for highway and transit improvements, so saying she supports increased taxes is accurate. But there’s no evidence to suggest she’d support increasing the cost of gas by $1 a gallon.

While Green has said funding for transit should be included in a future transportation revenue package, it is debatable whether such a position would lead to “endless transportation gridlock” as the ad suggests.

Green also has no connection to some of the past fossil fuel and mining investments of Steyer, one of her supporters. And Steyer‘s political action committee has spent only about a third as much on Green’s race as implied in the ad.