by Jenny Coyle
Steve Baru could not have predicted the positive fallout from getting environmental
candidate Dennis Moore elected to a congressional seat in Kansas two years ago.
Moore regularly seeks environmental leaders' advice on certain bills. He welcomes
activists into his office. And last year he achieved a League of Conservation Voters
rating of 82 percent.
"That's big news here, where 35 percent used to qualify you as an environmental
hero," said Baru, chair of the Sierra Club's Kansas Chapter. "But what's more
amazing to us is that, because the chapter played a vital role in getting Moore elected,
our standing in the community has risen."
City and county governments now seek out Sierra Club members to serve on commissions
and task forces. Right after the election, Sen. Sam Brownback's (R-Kan.) office called the
chapter for a meeting. Since Moore got into office, Brownback's LCV rating has gone from 0
to 33 percent.
"It's a whole new partnership here," said Baru, a stockbroker who is pleased
to say that Moore's staff even called him for advice on a bill reshaping individual
The Kansas Chapter's experience proves that having an ally in the House - or in any
elected seat, for that matter - can reap far-reaching rewards.
With fall elections just around the corner, chapters across the country are gearing up
to get involved in local, state and federal campaigns. Deanna White, the Sierra Club's
deputy political director, said the political committee works with local groups and
chapters to determine where the Club will focus its resources.
"We look for areas where the environment and the Sierra Club can really make a
difference," said White. "We want to use our resources in a way that gets the
most bang for the buck - we don't go where environmentalists are considered wild-eyed
radicals because that isn't going to help a good candidate."
The Club gets involved in political races in a variety of ways, the most common of
which is through endorsements and support, such as volunteering to work with a candidate's
campaign staff. Another is the independent expenditure campaign, in which the Club uses
its Political Action Committee funds to directly support or oppose a candidate,
independent of the candidate's campaign.
The Kansas Chapter ran an IEC for Moore. "We targeted certain precincts and went
door to door, did mailings and ran a phonebank campaign," said Baru. "Every
precinct we targeted went for Moore. We also ran a radio spot. Our involvement was so
high-profile that when the League of Conservation Voters brought in Robert Redford for a
radio spot, everyone thought we did it. Moore is up for re-election, and just last week
someone asked me if we were bringing Redford in again."
New Jersey Chapter activists are also eager to extol the benefits of getting an
environmental candidate into office; they gave their endorsement and support to help
Democrat Rush Holt defeat Republican incumbent Mike Pappas for a House seat in 1998.
"I didn't hesitate to work for the Holt campaign three days a week for most of the
summer and up until election day," said chapter activist Joan Denzer.
Also helping with data entry, mailings, fundraising, press conferences and
get-out-the-vote efforts on election day were Mary Penney, chair of the Central Jersey
Group; Steve Knowlton of the Shore Group; and Heather Zichel, political chair of the New
"It was definitely worth the work," said Denzer. "Midway through his
term, Rush was appointed to the Natural Resources Committee and immediately went to work
on getting full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He has also worked hard
to protect the New Jersey Highlands - a chapter goal for many years. He's taken a special
interest in halting overdevelopment and protecting open space. And he has a 100 percent
"These victories have a huge impact on the work we do as environmentalists,"
said White. "If we had 75 pro-environment senators, just think of the work we could
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