After its first election, the Outdoor Industry Association’s Political Action Committee is batting 811. Nine of 11 incumbent Congressional candidates it backed in last week’s election were re-elected. The PAC has raised roughly $25,000 so far this year from individual employees of member companies.


The only OIA PAC-backed candidates to lose were Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-0R), one of only two Republicans backed by the PAC. Landreiu received OIA’s Friend of the Industry Award in 2005 for her work on the conservation and outdoor recreation legislation and Smith has championed trade issues for the outdoor industry, including the Affordable Footwear Act. 

As of Thursday, Democrats held 254 seats in the House to the Republicans’ 173, compared to the pre-election ratio of 236 to 199 and that was with eight races still undecided. Roberts said that while Democrats will pick up seats on a few committees, she did not expect key committee chairmanships to change. 


One key exception was the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, which is likely to play a major role in shaping legislation on climate change that could generate significant additional funding for conservation and outdoor recreation programs.

Last week Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced he would challenge Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) for the chair of the committee. Rep. Edward Markey D-MA), meanwhile, has challenged Rep. Rich Boucher (D-VA) for the chair of a key subcommittee. Government fees charged for carbon credits could fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year, estimated Todd Keller, the OIA’s Washington DC-based recreation policy director. Congress approved only $25 million for the fund this year. If Dingell, whose constituency includes Big 3 auto executives, remains chairman, climate change legislation is likely to take much longer, Keller said.

In the key House Ways and Means Committee, which rules on key tax and trade legislation, the Democrats currently have 24 seats to the Republicans 17 and seem poised to pick up two more. On the House Natural Resources Committee the ratio is 27 to 22 with two more seats likely to go to the Democrats.

In the Senate, the Democrats had 56 of 100 seats with four races still undecided as of Thursday. One key ally, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), lost his race.                

Another loss was Rep. Jim McCrery, (R-LA) a ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, who retired and will be replaced by Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA). Finally, U.S Rep. Robin Hayes, (R-NC), who played a key role in drafting the Recreational Performance Outerwear Act, was defeated.


The RPOA seeks to repeal or eliminate tariffs on certain products no longer made in the United States. Hayes, a former textile executive, helped draft language to create the Sustainable Textile and Apparel Research Fund. The Fund would funnel a 1.5% tax on imported recreational outwear into domestic R&D of more sustainable manufacturing techniques for U.S. apparel and textile companies.
“The Democrats like this bill as a model for the kind of trade legislation they want to work on,” said Alex Boian, OIA’s trade policy director. “One of the challenges we will face is hard core Republicans who don’t like the STAR Fund. They want straight duty elimination. We view this bill as new archetype for trade legislation, where there is reinvestment.” Boian doubted the bill would pass this year, but said he thinks Republicans coming onto Ways and Means will find it “politically palatable.”

Other OIA supporters who lost seats include Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and Rep. Jim Saxton, (R-NJ) both senior members of the House Natural Resources Committee and moderate Republicans that were supportive of OIA’s public lands agenda. Saxton was named the “Greenest Republican in Congress” in 2007 by conservation groups. Minority leaders are expected to fill their positions on the committee with ‘conservative Westerners,’ said Amy Roberts, OIA’s VP of government affairs. 

Roberts said OIA will lobby Obama’s transition team on key appointments in the Department of Interior, including the chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service. It will also try to influence appointments at the U.S. Department of Commerce, including the U.S. Trade Representative.
Roberts conceded the industry faces huge challenges boosting funding for public lands given the yawning federal deficit. Even in the last two years under a Democratic majority, Congress has failed to increase funding of the stateside Land and Water Conservation Fund to levels deemed effective by OIA. Given the focus on the economic crisis and deficit reduction, the industry must tie its arguments to the obesity crisis, job creation and providing retailers and consumers relief, said Keller.

Roberts said she was encouraged that three states that rely significantly on outdoor recreation for employment – Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico – were among nine formerly red states carried by Obama.

OIA’s trade agenda, which revolves around eliminating tariffs on imports no longer made in the United States, may encounter even stiffer headwinds given Obama’s position. The President-Elect has said he favors a House Ways and Mean Committee proposal to monitor Chinese imports starting Jan. 1 when U.S. safeguards are set to expire. Several Democratic Congressmen have said they will consider extending those safeguards. It’s still unknown whether Obama favors self initiating anti-dumping cases to slow import surges. He has already endorsed the idea of initiating countervailing duties against Chinese imports if US Treasury can prove they are manipulating their currency, Boian said.

One of the OIA’s best opportunities may come up in the next few weeks as Congress works on an economic stimulus bill. OIA will try to get the Affordable Footwear Act, which seeks duty relief for certain outdoor footwear, into the legislation. “We will be looking for opportunities, whether tax relief or economic stimulus on the consumer side, that will help retailers through this winter season,  which could be tough,” said Roberts.