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January 2017 Issue

Playing Political Hardball for
Ocean Science

By David Wilmot, Ph.D.
President and Founder
Ocean Champions

Ocean Champions works to get officials elected to Congress who will lead the charge to pass pro-ocean policy, ensuring adequate research funding to protect and manage the oceans. As we like to say: “Great ocean policies begin with great ocean champions.” By endorsing and supporting pro-ocean candidates in their election bids, we are building political power for the oceans in Congress. We maintain a steady presence on Capitol Hill through our strategic lobbying activities and leverage our unique relationships to get results.

What Ocean Champions Does
During the past 10 years we’ve helped elect more than 100 ocean champions to Congress—Republicans, Democrats and Independents who have made the oceans a priority. As the only ocean conservation group engaging this way, Ocean Champions committed to upping our electoral game this election cycle with more endorsements, more contributions to candidates and more impact with independent messaging campaigns for candidates.

Endorsements, Elections and Challenges
A great deal of time is spent determining who is endorsed each election cycle. The endorsement process is taken very seriously. In making endorsement decisions we consider a number of factors, including a candidate’s future leadership potential, campaign viability, past voting record on ocean issues, and potential committee assignments in Congress (http://bit.ly/2gxQ2DF). You can learn how Ocean Champions chooses candidates to endorse at http://bit.ly/2gISGGZ.

On election night 2016, two years of work came to fruition as Ocean Champions helped elect 51 pro-ocean candidates to the U.S. House and Senate, bringing the overall total in the next Congress to 71 ocean champions, which includes: 14 first-time ocean champions, including eight new members to Congress—two in the Senate, six in the House; an increase in the number of Republican ocean champions; returning Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) to Congress—our largest Independent Expenditure campaign; and increasing the number of ocean champions on key committees such as the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and the House Natural Resources Committee.

There is always some uncertainty with a new administration and Congress. We are hopeful because we just helped elect more than 50 ocean champions, and we have relationships with each and every one of them. We have a track record of success based on these champions in the past under similarly challenging circumstances, and we know how hard they will fight for the issues that are important for ocean health.

Our electoral engagement, combined with a pragmatic, politically savvy approach to legislative advocacy, has earned us a strong reputation on Capitol Hill. This has translated into a growing list of successful policy victories resulting in increased research funding for issues such as harmful algal blooms and dead zones. We were able to achieve our top legislative priority when our Congressional champions led and passed and President Barack Obama signed the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxic Zone bill into law.

Achieving our top legislative priority was born out of our commitment to a bipartisan, coalition-building approach to ocean legislation. We are also helping to make significant progress on deterring and eliminating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (a.k.a. pirate fishing). Advanced ocean technology is enabling governments to better track and manage these critical marine activities. All these wins add up to better management of the oceans. In addition, we work with our champions in Congress to ensure that bad laws are not passed. For example, they have prevented riders on bills from passing that would have cut funding for the NOAA budget, affecting research and management programs.

What You Can Do
You can take action today to protect the oceans by supporting Ocean Champions.

We’ve helped give the oceans a voice on Capitol Hill. Now, we need help to make that voice even stronger (http://bit.ly/1TY6gFo).

You can also take action by participating in our Vote the Ocean campaign at www.oceanchampions.org/vote-the-ocean. In future elections, when you “vote the ocean,” you are taking political action for the oceans, which means: voting for candidates that champion a healthy ocean and pro-ocean policies; voting for pro-ocean legislation; and asking how any policy will affect the ocean.

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