One of this year’s most egregious political ads is the Big Oil-funded spot against Initiative 1631 that stars former Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna. In the ad, McKenna casts himself as a champion for consumer protection and tells voters they should vote against I-1631, the well-thought out plan to put a price on polluters and use the money to fund a just and responsible transition to a clean energy future… without disclosing that he represents one of those oil companies.
“As Attorney General, consumer protection was my top priority,” McKenna says as the ad opens. “That’s why I’m speaking out against I-1631.”
(It should be noted that the person who current serves as Washington’s Attorney General — that would be Bob Ferguson — is supporting I-1631.)
McKenna goes on to dutifully recite Big Oil’s talking points against I-1631. At no point does he disclose that he is being paid by Chevron for legal services.
In response to McKenna’s flagrant chicanery, the nonprofit campaign finance watchdog Washingtonians For Ethical Government — which I serve as President of — filed a complaint this week with the Washington State Bar Association urging that McKenna be disciplined for his unethical conduct.
“Big Oil is spending tens of millions of dollars to lie to the people, but as a Washington lawyer, McKenna cannot strengthen those lies by concealing that he is a tool of Big Oil,” WFEG counsel Knoll Lowney said in our press release announcing the complaint. “He is not speaking as a consumer advocate or attorney general; he is Chevron’s lawyer. McKenna should be sanctioned for violating the ethical rules.”
Big Oil has spent over $28 million on a slick campaign intended to cajole Washingtonians into voting against I-1631, which NPI strongly supports. The oil companies’ gusher of an effort to defeat I-1631 has already set a new record for the most money spent against an initiative in Washington State history.
As you can see, the top contributors to No on I-1631 are all hideously wealthy oil companies: BP, Phillips 66, Andeavor, and Valero. Even Koch Industries and Chevron have gotten in on the action. BP — whose Deepwater Horizon rig caused catastrophic destruction in the Gulf of Mexico eight years ago — has underwritten much of the campaign, writing an $11 million check from its Houston headquarters.
|ANDEAVOR LLC (NOW OWNED BY MARATHON PETROLEUM CORPORATION)||SACRAMENTO||CA||Cash||1,700,000.00|
|AMERICAN FUEL AND PETROCHEMICAL MANUFACTURERS||WASHINGTON||DC||Cash||1,000,000.00|
|VALERO ENERGY CORPORATION||SAN ANTONIO||TX||Cash||995,000.00|
|KOCH INDUSTRIES, INC.||WICHITA||KS||Cash||950,000.00|
|U.S. OIL & REFINING COMPANY||TACOMA||WA||Cash||558,531.31|
|CHEVRON U.S.A. INC.||SAN RAMON||CA||Cash||500,000.00|
|PBF ENERGY, INC.||PARSIPPANY||NJ||Cash||400,000.00|
|THE HOLLYFRONTIER COMPANIES||DALLAS||TX||Cash||250,000.00|
|BP AMERICA||HOUSTON||TX||In kind||165,380.88|
|WESTERN STATES PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION||SACRAMENTO||CA||In kind||68,339.15|
Although hardly any of the campaign’s money is coming from within the state, there are people based who are willing to carry Big Oil’s black goo for them.
People like Rob McKenna and his seemingly-always-grumpy advisor Randy Pepple, who tried to brush off WFEG’s complaint as frivolous in an interview with KOMO.
Pepple — whose name amusingly got transcribed as “Rainy Pebbles” by the tool that flagged his comments — called Washingtonians For Ethical Government a “front” for the Yes on I-1631 campaign.
“It’s a meritless complaint that’s filed by a front group for a campaign that is upset that Rob McKenna’s message has merit,” Pepple said.
Way to miss the point, Randy. It’s not what McKenna said WFEG finds upsetting, it’s what he didn’t say — specifically, that he is Chevron’s lawyer.
Plenty of organizations operating in the political sphere could be called front groups (like “Americans for Prosperity”, an arm of the Koch Brothers), but WFEG, contrary to Pepple’s statement, is not a front for the I-1631 campaign or any other campaign. It was created back in 2016 by activists wanting to champion timely and effective enforcement of Washington State’s public disclosure laws and ethics codes.
WFEG’s founding, incidentally, predates Republican operative and dirty trickster Glen Morgan’s weaponization of Chapter 42.17A RCW on behalf of right wing forces like the outfits that Pepple advises and consults for.
Pepple also groused that “these same groups that are now complaining about Rob” opposed Initiative 732 in 2016. That’s CarbonWA’s pollution pricing measure from two years ago, which McKenna decided to endorse in the campaign’s last days.
This comment is perplexing considering that the coalition supporting I-1631 includes both organizations that supported I-732 two years ago (including CarbonWA) as well as groups that opposed it. The entire coalition is unhappy with the many fabrications and dishonest statements coming out of the NO on I-1631 campaign, not just the organizations that took a position opposing I-732.
As for WFEG, it has no position on I-1631 and had no position on I-732 either.
WFEG is not a political committee. It doesn’t take positions on ballot measures, it doesn’t endorse candidates, and it doesn’t participate in any electoral activities. It is a campaign & ethics watchdog — nothing more, and nothing less.
When people like Rob McKenna behave unethically, Washingtonians For Ethical Government seeks to hold them accountable. That’s why it exists.
Rob McKenna deliberately chose to deceive Washingtonians by appearing in an ad on behalf of Big Oil without disclosing in the ad that he represents Chevron.
That was a grave error on his part.
As WFEG’s complaint documents, McKenna didn’t just fail to disclose. He took measures to conceal his relationship with Chevron by altering his LinkedIn profile to remove a reference to Chevron. His failure to be forthright with the people of Washington is unethical conduct for which he ought to be sanctioned. As McKenna himself proudly says, he is a former Attorney General, and he ought to know better.