Since becoming the first female chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2007, California Democrat Barbara Boxer has focused on combating climate change — calling on former Vice President Al Gore to testify, for instance, and advancing a cap-and-trade bill on carbon emissions. In November 2009, Boxer’s committee approved an energy and climate change bill despite a Republican-led boycott. Ultimately, the comprehensive legislation never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. Even Boxer concedes that Republican gains this past November will make it virtually impossible to pass climate legislation in the upcoming congressional session. But Boxer has made clear she’s in the fight for the long haul.
Boxer, now 70, has served in the Senate since 1993, following a 10-year stint in the House. A former stockbroker turned journalist, who worked at the Pacific Sun newspaper, she was first elected to public office in 1976. A fiery, liberal voice within the Democratic Party, Boxer holds the record for most popular votes ever cast for a Senate candidate, after winning 6.9 million of them in her 2004 re-election over Republican Bill Jones, California’s former secretary of state.
On Nov. 2, Boxer defeated Republican challenger Carly Fiorina in her 11th election victory, following what she called “the toughest and roughest campaign in my life.” The senator ran on a platform of clean energy and environmental protection, besting the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, who spent $5.5 million of her own money in the race. Industry groups poured millions into TV ads attacking Boxer. One ad labeled her “famous for protecting the 3-inch smelt instead of protecting California jobs and farms.” Another depicted her as an ominous-looking blimp hovering over the country, and blasted her for calling climate change a national security issue.
In a victory speech following her re-election, Boxer promised to continue her struggle, telling the jubilant crowd “I readily admit I want extremely clean air, extremely clean water, and extremely safe drinking water, and that’s what we’re going to have as I get back to the Environment and Public Works Committee.” The panel oversees not just air pollution, toxic substances, and ocean dumping, but also construction and maintenance of highways, bridges, and dams.
Much of Boxer’s campaign funds have come from single issue groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America, Human Rights Campaign, and Planned Parenthood. Labor unions and civil servant associations top the contributors list, as do the construction companies, transportation firms, and energy corporations that have business before the Environment and Public Works Committee. Companies with some history of environmental problems — Honeywell International ($10,000), Duke Energy Corporation ($5,000), and Archer Daniels Midland ($3,000) — have also given to Boxer despite her penchant for railing against corporate polluters.
Boxer has twice led Senate floor battles to block oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in 2003 and in 2005. She was the Senate sponsor of the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in Oct. 2006; the measure protects 275,830 acres of federal land as wilderness and 21 miles of stream as a wild and scenic river. It took Boxer and California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, five years to pass the legislation.
With tenuous Democratic control of the Senate in the 112th Congressional session, environmental advocates believe it will be impossible for Boxer to move a comprehensive climate and energy bill through her committee — something that Boxer herself acknowledged in December as the United Nations climate change conference met in Cancun, Mexico. “We will bring it back on a dime as soon as we see a change,” she said of the legislation, vowing instead to host “non-partisan briefings on the true scientific consensus on climate change” through committee hearings and press conferences. Boxer also committed “to work on legislation that reduces pollution, promotes energy efficiency and creates incentives to speed the transition to clean, renewable sources of energy.”
Environmental advocates expect Boxer will take a more defensive stance in her committee chairmanship in 2011 — holding the line on existing environmental protections, for example, and working to thwart efforts aimed at rolling back the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases and pollutants like soot, smog, mercury, and lead. Some advocates also see the anticipated re-authorization of the highway funding bill as presenting Boxer an opportunity to address global warming through improved public transit and other initiatives to reduce traffic congestion.
“We consider her to be a true environmental champion,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, of the League of Conservation Voters, which has given the three-term senator an 89 percent lifetime score for her record on environmental and public health issues. Not surprisingly, the business community takes a slightly different view. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says Boxer has cast votes in line with its agenda just 30 percent of the time during her 17 years in the Senate. In 2009, she supported the Chamber’s position in three out of seven votes on key business issues.
In a written statement provided to the Center, Sen. Boxer identified her top priorities for the next session as “creating jobs and accelerating our economic recovery,” through not only a new transportation bill but also a new measure to fund water projects. She also flagged “legislation to speed the transition to clean, renewable sources of energy and reduce carbon pollution.”
Top PAC Contributors
- National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a 20,000-member labor union representing controllers and other air-safety professionals — at least $26,500
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose 725,000 union members work in such fields as utilities, construction, and railroads — at least $25,000
- International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union of nearly 700,000 members in transportation and shipbuilding — at least $25,000
- BNSF Railway Co., the railroad company formerly known as Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which operates 390 rail lines in the west — at least $25,000
- American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest public employee and health care workers union, with 1.6 million members — at least $21,000
- American Association for Justice, formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America — at least $20,000
- PACs gave at least $2.6 million to Boxer’s campaign committee and her PAC for a Change leadership PAC
- Joshua Andrews, a legislative aide to Boxer for three years, is now assistant vice president for B&D Consulting, focusing on the firm’s energy and financial practice. Some of Andrews’ clients are Carbon Motors Corp., the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, and Darling International, Inc., a recycler of food processing by-products
- Steve Dye is a former legislative aide to Boxer who now heads the federal affairs unit for McAllister & Quinn, a government relations firm. Among his major clients: Lourdes College, in Sylvania, Ohio, St. Edwards University, in Austin, Texas, and the town of Carolina Beach, in North Carolina
- Matthew Baumgart, a former legislative director to Boxer, is senior director of governmental affairs for the Alzheimer’s Association
- Stacey Rampy worked as a legislative assistant to Boxer and is now a principal at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc., focusing on health care issues. Some of her major clients: the pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories, the American Clinical Laboratory Association, and America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents 1,300 health insurance providers
- Cinnamon Rogers served as senior policy advisor to Boxer and is now vice president of legislative affairs for Discovery Communications
- Boxer claimed more than 107 earmarks from 2008 to 2010, totaling more than $407 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
- In 2010, Boxer secured more than $130 million in earmarks including $6 million for a military construction project called the Taxiway Mike Bypass Road, a two-lane bypass lane around a taxiway at the Travis Air Force Base, in Fairfield, Calif. For the same year, she obtained $3.2 million on behalf of the University of Southern California for web-based teaching programs for military social work and nearly $2 million for a highway project that will replace aging road access to the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco
- Boxer has come under fire from government watchdog groups who accuse her of using her Senate position to enrich family members. In February 2008, the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington featured the senator in its report, Family Affair — Senate, analyzing what it called “the misuse of power” by senators to financially benefit their family members. The report found that Boxer had paid her son’s company, Douglas Boxer & Associates, as much as $320,000 in political consulting fees from 2001 to 2006 — the largest amount that any sitting senator had paid to a family business. Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile noted that the senator’s son has long managed this PAC, which he called “one of the most successful in the country.” The senator, he said, “feels very fortunate that he continues to run it. He brings a tremendous amount of legal experience and an in-depth knowledge of politics to the job”