THE LIGHTBULB

In what campaign-finance experts say may be a first, outdoor clothing company Patagonia is endorsing two Senate candidates in the western United States, where protecting the public land in which its customers recreate is a key concern. 

The Ventura, Calif.-based retailer announced Friday that it is backing two Democrats, incumbent Sen. Jon Tester who is running for reelection in Montana, and Rep. Jacky Rosen as she seeks to unseat Sen. Dean Heller (R) in Nevada. The two Senate races are among the most competitive in 2018 in a chamber in which Republicans hold a razor-thin 51-to-49 majority. 

“Public lands are center stage there, in Montana and Nevada,” Patagonia spokeswoman Corley Kenna said. “And we felt by motivating our community to vote, we could help protect the public lands and waters in those places.” 

Many corporations, such as AT&T, ExxonMobil and UPS, have established political action committees that take donations from employees and use it to fill candidates' coffers. The companies themselves stay mum on their preferred candidates. 

Some CEOs and other high-level executives endorse candidates as well. For example, Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 while casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson endorsed Donald Trump. But neither the social-networking firm nor Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands, themselves issued endorsements.

What Patagonia is doing is different. For as much money as corporate interests have pumped into politics after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, Patagonia's pair of endorsements may constitute the first time any corporation has explicitly endorsed a candidate for office, experts say.

“I am not aware of a similar corporate endorsement of a candidate,” said Richard Briffault, a Columbia Law School professor and campaign finance expert, “although I can't say it never happened before.”

Michael S. Kang, a law professor and campaign-finance expert at Northwestern University, similarly could not recall any other public endorsement of a candidate from a corporations.

“Consumer-facing companies traditionally shy away from taking sides publicly in candidate races, so it would make sense if nothing comparable has happened since Citizens United,” Kang said. “Before Citizens United, a public endorsement of this type would’ve been illegal, so it’s a relatively new opportunity in any event.”

Brendan Quinn, outreach coordinator for the Center for Responsive Politics, added that no one there could “think of any other time a company has explicitly endorsed a candidate” other than endorsements printed in the opinion pages of newspapers. 

“We're frankly in an era where nothing really should surprise us,” Quinn said. “It is something that took our entire office by surprise.”

For Patagonia, this is hardly the first time it has dipped its steel-toe boot into politics. For more than a decade, the company ran get-out-the-vote campaigns both in stores and online, encouraging customers to support the deployment of renewable energy and to oppose the construction of new fossil-fuel infrastructure. 

Since President Trump's election, however, Patagonia's public political activity has sharply increased. Last year, the company sued the Trump administration after it shrank in size two national monuments in Utah. Its website declared “The President Stole Your Land.” Its founder, Yvon Chouinard, appeared on CNN to call the government “evil.”

“I’m not going to sit back and let evil win,” Chouinard said. 

Republicans saw the proclamations from Trump to scale back the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments as a much-needed reversal of federal overreach that they say elbowed ranchers and other locals from the land. 

Democrats, however, decried the loss of protections for about 2 million acres of wilderness. Rosen called the decision “thoughtless” while Tester called it “an unprecedented and historic rollback” that threatened the outdoor recreation economy. 

So the company's position polarized the clothing brand in Washington. The top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Maria Cantwell from Washington state, registered a protest of the national monuments decision by donning a Patagonia jacket at a committee hearing. 

On the other side of the Capitol, Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, led by Utah's Rob Bishop, accused the company of "hijacking our public lands debate to sell more products to wealthy elitist urban dwellers from New York to San Francisco.” 

A spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission said the agency does not track corporate endorsements of federal candidates. But the commission's website does explain that companies may endorse candidates as long as they do not “coordinate the announcement” with the campaign. Patagonia said Wednesday that Tester's and Rosen's teams were unaware of the endorsements.

“There are a robust set of laws around campaign finance issues," said Rob Tadlock, a lawyer at Patagonia, “and we're confident were within those bounds.”

POWER PLAYS

— Inspector general says Zinke’s approach to wife’s travels raised red flags: A new report from the Interior Department's internal watchdog found several problems with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's travel. The inspector general's office found that staff in the department’s solicitor office approved Zinke's wife, Lolita Zinke, and others "to ride in Government vehicles with Secretary Zinke” even though Interior policy prohibited this practice. Taxpayers also paid $25,000 to send an unarmed security detail with the Zinkes on a vacation to Turkey and Greece last summer.

Trump administration critics lambasted Zinke for breaching the public's trust after The Post's Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey published the findings. “Republicans have known about Secretary Zinke’s scandals for eighteen months and done nothing," Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. "Putting Democrats in charge of Congress is the only way to stop these abuses.”

The report also caps off a chaotic week at Interior. "Hours before the report was released, Interior Department officials said that they did not approve the hiring of a political appointee as their agency’s acting watchdog, calling the announcement of her move by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson '100 percent false information.' "

— Elsewhere at Interior: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of Interior, told employees in September to narrow what documents it releases to the public under Freedom of Information Act requests about decisions on endangered species, The Guardian reports. The move comes as the Trump administration tries to overhaul the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act.

— And elsewhere in Montana politics: The Post's Gabriel Pogrund went to Zinke's home state of Montana for an update on the race between Tester and his Republican challenge, Matt Rosendale. Tester's campaign is trying to use one of Rosendale’s old positions — in support of transferring federal lands to the state — against him. That issue "featured heavily in Montana’s most recent gubernatorial election and helped pave the way for the election of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock," Pogrund reports.

— USDA’s enforcement of animal welfare laws plummeted in 2018: Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued 192 written warnings to breeders, exhibitors and research labs that allegedly violated animal welfare laws. But this year, that figure fell to just 39 warnings in the first three-quarters of fiscal 2018, The Post's Karin Brulliard reports. “It’s all part of this pro-industry, anti-regulatory agenda,” Eric Kleiman, a researcher who has tracked the USDA’s animal care enforcement for the Animal Welfare Institute, told The Post.

— The Trump administration tries to halt kids' climate suit yet again: Lawyers for the government are calling on the Supreme Court once again to stop a youth-led lawsuit that claims the federal government is ignoring the impact of climate change, according to Reuters. The Supreme Court  already rejected the first application by the federal government to put the brakes on the suit back in July. The trial in the case is scheduled to begin on Oct. 29 in Oregon.

THERMOMETER

— “Very seriously”: Acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler said the agency is taking the recent U.N. climate change report “very seriously” despite the administration's rollback of greenhouse-gas regulations, according to The Hill. Wheeler also noted at an event Thursday a new EPA report that found greenhouse emissions had actually dropped during the Trump administration’s first year.

— Hurricanes did what scientists could not: Two hurricanes in as many years in North Carolina have convinced some Republicans in the state that climate change is real. A recent Elon University poll taken after Hurricane Florence found that 37 percent of Republicans believe global warming is “very likely" to negatively impact the state’s coast in the next 50 years, up from 13 percent who felt that way last year, The Post’s Tracy Jan reports. Meanwhile, the percentage of Republicans who said climate change is “not at all likely” to harm the coastal communities dropped from 41 percent last year to 31 percent. “I always thought climate change was a bunch of nonsense, but now I really do think it is happening,” one 65-year-old Trump supporter told Jan.

And the storm’s toll impact on the election: Reuters has more on how the storm will impact next month’s election in Florida, as most in the region still wait for the return of services like electricity, phones and passable roads. There “election officials in the Panhandle are scrambling to ensure tens of thousands of people are able to vote,” per the report. The effort is being watched nationally since Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is in a tough reelection race with Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott. "While it has a relatively sparse population, the Panhandle is one of Florida’s most reliably Republican areas.” 

— Winter is coming: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that a likely El Niño could mean above-average amounts of precipitation in the southern and eastern United States this winter, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center told reporters there’s a “70-to-75 percent chance El Niño will develop in the next few months." “Historically, El Niño events have boosted precipitation amounts across the South and into the Mid-Atlantic and sometimes snowfall as well,” Samenow writes. “In the Mid-Atlantic region, the amount of snow has depended on the strength of El Niño. Moderate and strong El Niño events have tilted the odds toward heavy snow in the Mid-Atlantic, but weak events have not.”

Meanwhile: An oddly warm early fall in Alaska could mean an overall wild winter in the Lower 48 states, The Post’s Ian Livingston reports. “The cause of the freakishly nice weather has been massive high pressure anchored over and around the state,” Livingston writes. The pleasant weather has also “allowed ocean temperatures in the Northeast Pacific to rise significantly, as well. This has led to the return of a pool of abnormally warm ocean water in the Northeast Pacific known as ‘the blob.’ ” If this blob lingers, it could have a major impact on the rest of the country. “Generally, it has been linked to abnormally warm and dry conditions in the West, and cold and stormy conditions in the East,” Livingston reports.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks holds a field hearing.
  • The U.S. Association for Energy Economics National Capital Area Chapter holds a presentation on “What the midterm elections may mean for energy policy."
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Here's your Friday night activity: Orionid meteor shower, with debris from Halley’s comet, peaks Friday night, Matthew Cappucci reports for The Post. Here's the cloud cover forecast across the country: