Group seeks penalties over anti-farm ad

EPA employee among those cited in letter

— A new group organized to defend farming is calling for enforcement action against those responsible for the “What’s Upstream” ad campaign.

Save Family Farming, which formed after the anti-farm lobbying campaign began, called for the action yesterday.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the state Public Disclosure Commission the group alleges Dennis McLerran of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Marty Loesch of Seattle political public relations firm Strategies 360 and Swinomish Tribe Environmental Manager Larry Wasserman violated state campaign laws by failing to register the “What’s Upstream” campaign as a grass-roots lobbying effort.

“This was a clear cut effort to influence state legislators to pass laws requiring mandatory stream buffers and it involved the introduction and support of legislation with that goal in the Washington state senate,” Save Family Farming’s attorney James Tupper said.

The campaign was a project of the Swinomish tribe as part of an $18 million Environmental Protection Agency grant to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission approved in late 2010.

According to official reports provided to the agency by the tribe and commission, $655,000 of public money was spent on a website, social media, online ads, sponsorships on KUOW, bus advertising on Whatcom Transit Authority buses, and billboards located in Bellingham and Olympia.

“Farmers across the state were upset by the false accusations and distortions of the campaign,” Save Family Farming Executive Director Gerald Baron said. “The fact that this malicious political attack on our state’s family farmers was funded by our own tax dollars galvanized farmers across the state.”

McLerran is accused of being a key figure in the campaign. Documents requested by Save Family Farming under the Freedom of Information Act show he overruled federal agency staff who had put a halt to the campaign.

The group’s letter followed on the heels of legislation calling for reforming federal agencies’ use of tax dollars. The “Integrity” bill co-sponsored by Congressman Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

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