Performative Political Platforms

We are no stranger to politicians promising to deliver a policy or legislation as part of their campaign platform, but never delivering on that promise. Politicians want to eat their cake and have it too.

What happens, inevitably, is the politician compromises on their promises in favor of the requests of their corporate donors. Those of us who use our voices and our vote end up with no representation. This is an aspect of corporate capture.

We in Tacoma are painfully familiar with this reality.  It is past time to call attention to these performative political platforms. For decades, the people in this city have been tossed aside by elected representatives as soon as they take their oath.

Industry lobbyists are paid well to ingratiate themselves to elected officials. They contribute to campaigns, which grants them first priority for meetings with elected officials. Besides contributing cash, they host brunches, lunches, dinners, and fundraisers. They are granted unprecedented access to these decision-makers, gaining significant influence in the policy making process.

“Corporate capture” is a phenomenon where private industry uses its political influence to take control of the decision-making apparatus of the state, such as regulatory agencies, law enforcement entities, and legislatures. When corporations draft legislation privately with lawmakers that they have significant influence over, this results in laws and policies that benefit corporations, while often harming the environment, low-income people, and communities of color.


Ryan Mello is running for Pierce County Council, after reaching the term limit for a seat on the Tacoma City Council. Ryan has served in many positions which might lead one to believe that he is an environmental advocate.  He is the current Executive Director of the Pierce Conservation District, he has served on the board of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, as well as Chair of the Puget Sound Regional Council

Ryan signed the No Fossil Fuel Pledge. in 2019 and 2020. It might be tempting to believe that he is a strong environmental candidate. The shine wore off for me a long time ago.

Ryan has taken a $1000 campaign contribution from Washington State oil and gas lobbyist, Denny Eliason. Even though he has pledged not to take more than $200, and to not take money from lobbyists. 

Eliason is a partner at Alliances Northwest. BP America and Puget Sound Energy are employers of that lobbying firm. Last year, BP America paid Alliances Northwest over $100,000 to lobby on their behalf. This year they have paid Alliances Northwest $9000. Puget Sound Energy has paid Alliances Northwest $10,000, according to the June L2 Report for the Public Disclosure Commission. Eliason has so much influence that he was able to shoot the tires flat on Jay Inslee’s proposed carbon tax legislation in Washington state.  

Mello wrote a letter of support for the LNG refinery currently being built on the tideflats on Puyallup Tribe of Indians traditional territories. Despite years of campaigning by local environmental activists, Mello has never rescinded his letter of support for the LNG refinery, even while he served on the board of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Neither has Mello spoken with any courage with regard to the Tideflats Interim Regulations which have paused new fossil fuel developments at the Port of Tacoma, but allows ‘grandfathered’ industry to continue to expand unimpeded.

Some argue that this is just the game that gets played. That politicians have to ‘go along to get along’ in order to move anywhere close to a legislative proposal that vaguely favors environmental stewardship. To what end?

“The oil industry has done this double-speak dance,” said Kristin Eberhard, Director of Climate and Democracy for the Seattle-based nonprofit Sightline Institute, an environmental thin tank focused on the Pacific Northwest. “They realize that most Americans know that climate change is happening, and the would look self-serving and out of touch if they tried to deny climate change. So they’ve just turned around and said ‘We know climate change is happening, we want to take action on it. Oh, but not this action,’ any time action comes up.”

Industry plays a dirty game and they stack the deck by capturing our local politicians. Remember that BP has historically funded climate change deniers. Eliason not only donates to Mello’s campaign, he fundraises for him. We are not idiots and it’s time for these politicians and lobbyists to stop treating us as such.

We are seeing the results of corporate capture in devastating ways on the national level. The removal of environmental regulations, the fast-tracking of permits for pipelines, to name just a few.

We need courage from our elected officials. We need officials who will stand up to industry lobbyists. When we find elected officials who have that courage, we the people, need to give them as much support as we can.

Mello isn’t the only candidate guilty of performative political platforms. At this moment in time, our choices in the political arena aren’t great, but that doesn’t mean we should concede to status quo and enable the corporate capture that is so prevalent in our government. Just as we have a responsibility to provide support to politicians who have courage to do the right thing, we should be courageous in our calling out of disingenuous and duplicitous elected officials. I’ll say it again – we can no longer afford to let the status quo of ‘going along to get along’ to determine who takes these elected seats.

We deserve to have officials who honor their pledges and stand up for the people and the environment. No more giving credence to performative political platforms.


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