Big Timber Bucks Pave Way For Logging Roads

THE flow of cash from Big Timber to the Beltway acts like a pesticide sprayed on fledgling attempts to end corporate welfare: It kills reform efforts dead.

According to Common Cause, the timber lobby poured more than $8 million into political coffers since 1991 - including $2.7 million in soft money to both the Republican and Democratic parties. The campaign gift-giving paid off for timber interests earlier this year, when lawmakers in both parties joined to preserve a three-decades-old government subsidy to build logging roads.

The roads are built on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Although the roads often are later used by the general public for forest access and recreation, the original intent is for private companies who harvest the trees. Logging roads are a key contributor to environmental degradation of streams and watersheds.

A few fiscal conservatives joined environmentalists in Congress in an effort to kill the road program, which has cost taxpayers $458 million over the past six years. But they were no match for bipartisan pork preservationists, led by key members of Washington state's delegation.

Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks, who received $37,350 in PAC money from timber since 1991, was instrumental in blocking attempts in the House to end the road purchaser credit program. Dicks ranks seventh-highest among House recipients of timber contributions. Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn ranks fourth overall. Of the state's nine congressional representatives, only Seattle Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, who received the least amount of timber money in the delegation ($2,000 over six years), voted against continued road subsidies in the House.

Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, an erstwhile advocate of limited government, received $78,529 in timber PAC money since 1991 - placing him third-highest on the list of Senate timber moneymen. Not only did Gorton spearhead the campaign to kill a Senate amendment to terminate the road program and trim the Forest Service road budget by $10 million, he also led the successful effort to expand the giveaway. Final legislation got rid off a $50-million cap on how much the Forest Service may give in timber credits to logging companies in 1998.

Both the money-givers and money-takers protest loudly against those who attack the road purchaser credit subsidies as corporate welfare. If the timber lobby is arguing its members don't benefit from the logging road program, why does the industry continue to fight so hard and spend so much to protect it?