Doc Hastings — Natural Resources Committee

Washington Republican questioned about ethics panel tenure

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Richard “Doc” Hastings, a one-time paper company executive, was among the historic freshman class that swept House Republicans into power in the 1994 midterm elections, under the banner of their “Contract with America.”The former state legislator represents Washington’s 4th district, which encompasses Yakima and the rural heart of the state.

A low-key politician, known for his loyalty to the GOP leadership, Hastings has concentrated mostly on bread-and-butter issues for his district. He started the ongoing feasibility study for water reclamation in the Yakima River Basin, for instance, and pushed to clean up nuclear waste sites such as Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Much of his funding comes from industries tied to his state’s natural resources, such as oil, gas, mining, and forestry companies. Agricultural producers rank high as well.

Hastings, 69, gained influence — and the spotlight — as the chairman of the House Ethics Committee back in 2005. Government watchdog groups called for him to step down over the panel’s inaction on ethics cases and questions about his own conduct. His office notes that Hastings was one of 10 Congress members who voted to admonish Republican Tom DeLay of Texas three times, and that he investigated Republican Duke Cunningham of California, now in federal prison. Hastings also headed the House Rules Committee during the Newt Gingrich era, sealing his reputation as a dependable GOP voice and vote.

Now the senior Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees federal land use and public water resources such as the Bonneville Power Administration, Hastings is considered the next likely chairman. He has said little about his plans for the committee, which also has jurisdiction over endangered species, mining safety, national forests, water reclamation, and fisheries. Hastings’ office declined to comment on any potential committee agenda until after the election.

But environmental advocates who follow the committee do not find comfort in his record. In fact, according to the League of Conservation Voters annual report, Hastings has a lifetime score of just 2 percent based on his past actions on the environment. That means he has taken anti-environmental positions 98 percent of the time, in the group’s view.

“It’s uniformly bad,” said Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club’s deputy national field director, referring to Hastings’s environmental record. He wonders whether the congressman’s new influence as chairman would inspire him to try to craft solutions to protect public lands and water resources from industry encroachments—or not.

“If history is prologue,” Arthur added, “I don’t think you can expect much of Doc.”

Top PAC contributors

  • Weyerhaeuser Co., a timber and paper products firm — at least $20,000
  • National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a group representing small electric utilities — at least $19,754
  • American Crystal Sugar Co., a large agricultural cooperative — at least $17,000
  • Bechtel Group, an engineering and construction giant — at least $17,000
  • General Dynamics, a major defense industry contractor — at least $17,000
  • PACs gave at least $681,000 to his campaign account

Revolving door

  • Martin Doern, Hastings’s former legislative director, has been a lobbyist for Portland General Electric since 2008
  • Jeff Markey served as Hastings’s deputy chief of staff until 2003, when he moved to McBee Strategic Consulting, where he is now senior executive vice president
  • Craig Kennedy, a legislative director for Hastings in the 1990s, now lobbies for the National Association of Community Health Centers

Earmarks

  • Hastings claimed over 130 earmarks from 2008 to 2010, totaling $315 million, according to the Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • Hastings secured $40 million for the Columbia Basin Project, in Washington state, the largest U.S. water reclamation project over the past three years
  • He obtained $3.5 million for Insitu Group, a Washington-based company that makes the Integrator drone, to help develop unmanned aircraft for the Air Force
  • Hastings helped to obtain $3.2 million for the Navy’s portable launch and recovery system for drones
  • Hastings requested an earmark of $2.4 million for General Dynamics, one of his biggest campaign contributors, to supply bombs for the Army

Stimulus letters

  • Hastings voted against the 2009 stimulus bill but co-wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in support of funding to expand broadband in Washington state

Ethics

  • Hastings has come under fire from government watchdog groups for his office’s contact with a U.S. attorney. In 2007, the advocacy group CREW filed a complaint against Hastings alleging his chief of staff, Ed Cassidy, made a phone call in an attempt to influence a U.S. attorney who was investigating allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial election. Hastings has called his former aide’s phone call “a simple inquiry and nothing more.” The House Ethics Committee—on which Hastings served at the time—did not act on the complaint. Hastings’s chief of staff, Jessica Gleason, told the Center this week that the ethics committee concluded the contact did not involve Hastings, and “did not violate House rules.” In addition, she noted the federal prosecutor later testified “he didn’t think that call crossed any unethical lines”
  • Hastings was called into question for calling it “a new standard of governing focused on creating jobs, growing our economy, cutting spending, securing our nation and reforming Congress”
  • Hastings has signaled he will continue some of the battles he fought as ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee and said that he will advocate for an “all of the above” policy when it comes to energy policy

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