State Senator Accused Of Retaliatory Legislation Against Newspaper Critical Of His Actions

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Columbian Newspaper Logo

Washington Senator Don Benton
Senator Don Benton

In what many see as a sign of attempting to control the press through legislative penalties a Washington state newspaper is crying foul after a state senator singled out a local newspaper by making it pay a $150,000-a-year fine for being “one of the top polluters in the county.” It just so happens that the lawmaker, state Senator Don Benton, had been the subject of a series of critical articles in the same newspaper.

The editor of The Columbian newspaper is now accusing Benton of playing hardball. Editor Lou Brancaccio said it is clear Benton’s “nonsensical” proposal is “silly on its face and in our view, retaliatory.”

Senator Benton has been the subject of multiple articles in The Columbian, after he was appointed to a six-figure position as Clark County’s director of environmental services last May. Many of Washington’s lawmakers also hold day jobs.

The Columbian questioned Senator Benton’s appointment from the start. The paper claimed Benton did not seem to have “the minimum requirements” for the job and noted his appointment was controversial, with one county commissioner accusing his colleagues of “political cronyism” for choosing Benton. Additionally, the paper has reported the job’s description was altered before Benton was appointed, which the county commissioners have since denied.

One of Benton’s tasks in his new role was determining how to generate revenue to pay for a $3.6 million settlement the county agreed to pay for violating the Clean Water Act. Last week, Benton presented the Clark County Board of Commissioners a series of what he called “options” for generating revenue, including the hefty fine on The Columbian.

Senator Benton stated the newspaper fine is one of the four best options his team came up with after a “brainstorming” session. Other options offered to the board were raising fines on private roads and fining developers of stormwater systems, among others.

Benton proposed the newspaper fine as 1.5 cents per paper distributed, and said it would only apply to newspapers that have a weekly circulation of over 50,000 because they have the greatest environmental impact. The Columbian is the only paper that fits those criteria in the county, and based on its current circulation its annual fine would be about $150,000.

Columbian Newspaper Editor Lou Brancaccio
Lou Brancaccio

Benton said there are many reasons behind the proposed newspaper fine, none of which are related to the Columbian’s reporting. For one, he said, newspapers are easy to keep track of and regulate, as papers keep record of their circulation. Also, Benton said, statistics show newspapers are considered one of the top five polluters nation-wide and his workers have personally noticed the high volume of newspaper materials polluting their storm drains.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I let one of the biggest polluters in the county off the hook,” he said.

Benton emphasized the newspaper fine is just one of many options presented to the board, and all parts of the proposal, including the fine amount, could change. He called the suggestion the proposal was an attempt to retaliate against the paper “absolutely ludicrous.”

“Typical Columbian (is) trying to make a sensational story out of something that is pretty routine, quite frankly,” he said.

The Columbian isn’t buying it. Brancaccio said he thinks Senator Benton will back off from the proposal quickly as his paper and others draw attention to it, and it will never be implemented.

“When you do stupid stuff we are going to hold you accountable,” he said.

In a March 22 opinion column, Brancaccio blasted Benton and the commissioners who appointed him as corrupt.

“It’s politics at its worst,” he wrote. “And because these guys also are terrible at masking their payback, they’re not even good at being bad politicians. They feel so invincible, they simply act in the open and tell the public ‘Screw you; what are you going to do about it?'”

Does the action of Senator Benton seem retaliatory to you, or is this a legitimate way of funding the County’s pollution liability by making others pay for their alleged polluting practices?

By Darren Smith

Sources:

The Columbian
Fox News
Washington Senate, Don Benton

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

10 thoughts on “State Senator Accused Of Retaliatory Legislation Against Newspaper Critical Of His Actions

  1. This is an amazing story. Disgusting, but amazing. I am guessing that the newspaper will have to take this fine to court and the County will pay even more money to find out they are breaking the law.

  2. If Benton can back his claim about newspaper being a pollutant in the storm drains, I would give him a pass. If he can’t, then toast him over a fire of dry newspapers.

    I read one of the articles where the newspaper was attacking Benton and it is clear the newspaper does not let its workers telecommute. Benton seems to be doing both jobs and is required to do both jobs. Not sure what the newspaper wants him to do, besides not fine them 1.5 per paper.

  3. The newspaper ought to sell toilet paper– with Benton’s photo on it. Use the proceeds to pay the fine. Advise the users to mail the end product (no pun intended) to Benton’s office. You could hang a photo of that schmuck in any bug infested place in the state and scare off any cockroach.

  4. Although I think newspapers need to stop printing and focus on digital offerings, something does smell fishy about this situation.

    I have a problem with the whole idea of looking at fines as a way to raise revenue to fund political positions for environmental czars. Fines are suppose to be a real penalty, not a fundraiser. So they invent penalties because they need money? That way of thinking is the source of the corruption.

  5. I know this is beside the point, but the $150,000 seems off. With a fine of 1.5 cents per paper, The Columbian would have to have a hard copy circulation of 10,000,000. The entire state of Washington has a population of less than 7,000,000. Is The Columbian that good?

  6. So this clown is proposing to find the newspaper because the purchasers of said newspaper my be improperly disposing the paper? I think the newpaper’s liability ends when each newspaper is sold. Nicht var?

  7. Not enough detail here to decide, but inasmuch as he is a Republican and a conservative, it probably is in retaliation, conservatives neither being concerned for the environment nor a free press, but still not enough info here.

  8. We didn’t have a pollution problem in the early to mid 1900’s when newspapers sales were at their peak. Today, newspapers are recycled everyday. But take a look at Google, Yahoo, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Take a closer look at your own use of your personal computer, at home, at work, and on your smart phone. We are all contributing to global warming and pollution as a whole.

    In early 2006, Facebook had a quaint 10 million or so users and the one main server site. Today, the information generated by nearly one billion people requires outsize versions of these facilities, called data centers, with rows and rows of servers spread over hundreds of thousands of square feet, and all with industrial cooling systems. In that year, Jeff Rothschild was the engineer in charge of keeping a smaller data center working–but he found the equipment was so hot it was about to melt. His crew went out and bought every electric fan they could find in order to save the equipment.

    Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The NY Times found. (NY Times.com, technology)

    Senator Benton’s fines seem ridiculous–he’s probably grasping for straws to hurt an obvious opponent, The Columbian newspaper.
    Darren Smith is also grasping for straws in an effort to smear his opposing party affiliation.

    The real issue is for us to look at the part we all play in contributing to pollution. What are you willing to sacrifice to save our earth from Global Warming? I doubt that most people are willing to do much when it comes to personal abstinence.

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