Minutes before the debate in Lansing, Mich., between Debbie Stabenow
(D) and incumbent Rep. Dick Chrysler (R), Sierra Club organizer Mary
Matthews deftly followed local TV news anchor and debate moderator Jane
Aldrich into the restroom and engaged her in conversation about the
environment while the anchorwoman was washing her hands. "Why," asked
Matthews, "given Americans' support for environmental protection, isn't
the media raising it as more of an election issue?" A short while
later, Eldridge asked the candidates a question about environmental
Matthews' move was just one of the many ways the Sierra Club injected
the environment into the political debate this summer and fall. All
across the country, the environment played a significant role in the
1996 congressional elections, but there were few places where it was
more critical in affecting the outcome than in the 8th district of
Michigan, centered in Lansing, where the Club ran an independent
expenditure campaign to elect Stabenow. (She won with 55 percent of the
vote.) The Club also ran a successful IEC in the 22nd district of
California (San Luis Obispo), where challenger Walter Capps (D)
defeated incumbent Rep. Andrea Seastrand (R), by six percentage points.
Independent expenditure campaigns impose no spending limits on behalf
of or against a given candidate, but campaign participants are
prohibited from any communication or coordination with the candidate.
Though the Club's $148,000 expenditures on these two campaigns was
relatively modest, polls commissioned by the Sierra Club demonstrated
it was money well-spent.
Greenberg Research Inc. conducted a poll in both IEC districts in the
days before the election. In California, Seastrand's anti-environmental
votes were the most frequently mentioned reason voters planned to vote
against her. And 58 percent of Capps' supporters cited Seastrand's
actions against clean air and clean water as the key to their vote.
In Michigan, 39 percent of respondents cited the environment as being
"very important" in their voting decision. For those who said their
vote was for Stabenow, clean water and the environment ranked as one of
the top three reasons for that vote; for those who said their vote was
against Chrysler, his votes against the environment ranked as one of
the top two reasons for that vote.
In her acceptance speech, Stabenow singled out the Sierra Club and
Clean Water Action, which joined forces to run the IEC. Between them,
the two organizations mobilized 400 volunteers and contacted more than
10,000 voters at the door and made close to 32,000 phone calls.
Stabenow personally thanked IEC organizer Matthews for the high-quality
materials and the Club's overall effort. Matthews credited the victory
to the campaign steering committee (Mike Keeler, Sue Kelly, Helen
LeBlanc and Gwen Nystuen), Mackinac Chapter Director Alison Horton, the
Club's media team and the chapter's volunteer strength.
In California, most of the information voters received about Andrea
Seastrand's environmental record came from Sierra Club TV and radio
ads, phone and door-to-door contact, and direct mail. Three-quarters of
the voters polled recalled seeing or hearing the Club's environmental
ads. The TV ad pictured pollution discharge and a voice-over that said,
"let's dump Seastrand before she dumps anymore on us."
California IEC organizer Randy Levine worked with Sierra Club members
in the district to expose Sea-strand's record, notably her votes
against clean water and coastal protection and her $117,221 in
corporate polluter PAC funding. And when Dan Quayle came to town,
Levine followed Seastrand and the former vice president as they walked
through Avila Beach and peppered them with questions, like why they
didn't visit the beach town polluted by Unocal's leaking oil pipes.
Levine got no answers, but as the Santa Barbara Independent noted,
"What could he really expect from Quayle, who once told us, 'It isn't
pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our
air and water that are doing it?"
The Capps and Stabenow victories bring the Club's record in independent
expenditure campaigns to three for three. (The Club ran a successful
IEC in January to help elect Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden to the Senate.)
"These three wins," said Deputy Political Director Steven Krefting,
"demonstrate that when we pull together the resources and get our
message across in a tight race, we make the difference between victory
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