Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Earlier this month, Scott Walker's DNR canceled a controversial taxpayer-funded grant to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin. The move came after the far-right political organization was exposed to the bright light of media scrutiny. However, a stink still remains of the whole sordid affair. A full accounting of our state politicians' actions in this matter must be made to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.
"United Sportsmen of Wisconsin” sounds as American as motherhood and apple pie. On their website, the group describes their mission: “To promote and foster the wise use and conservation of WI natural game resources.” Who could oppose a group that promotes wise hunting and fishing in our state?
In reality, the group is a front for supporting a far-right political agenda and Republican politicians. According to the GAB, the lobbying efforts of the organization included legislation to make it easier to commercialize wetlands. (That should help Wisconsin fishing !) They lobbied for iron strip mining, a law which will ban actual sportsmen from vast swaths of northern Wisconsin. So far this year, 60% of their lobbying effort focused on the strip mining bill.
The group also lobbied heavily for the not-so-sportsmanlike “Castle Doctrine Law.” Of 10 people honored to be present at Scott Walker's signing of the “It's OK to murder a drunken teenager on your porch” law, three of them were from United Sportsmen. What does shooting kids have to do with hunting and fishing?
United Sportsmen was formed in 2011 and its leadership is a Who's Who of far-right organizations. Started by an Americans For Prosperity alumnus, the current staff includes the former Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Scott Suder. Other staffers include the head of the Sauk County Tea Party, the 2012 AFP "Activist of the Year", a former NRA lobbyist, and two former GOP State Senators. Of course, with an ideological flock like that, the organization heartily endorsed Scott Walker during his recall election.
The grant was supposed to provide $500,000 in taxpayer money to United Sportsmen every two years in perpetuity. According to a report by the Journal-Sentinel, Republican mega-donor Terry Kohler sent a letter to four Republican legislators including our own Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) asking for the grant to be awarded specifically to United Sportsmen. Not in Walker's original budget, the give-away was slipped into the biennial budget by Darling's Joint Finance Committee.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder was reportedly the main legislative proponent of the giveaway. Suder then left the Assembly, recently accepting a a Walker appointment at the Public Service Commission for $94,000/yr. It appears that while Suder was looking out for his own people through taxpayer funding of United Sportsmen, our Governor was looking out for Suder.
The grant was purportedly to be used for educational purposes in promoting hunting and fishing. Never mind that United Sportsmen had no experience in conducting a program of this sort. In a WPR interview, a spokesperson from the League of Conservation Voters said, “They do not have experience with firearm safety and they do not have a history of working directly with hunters.”
The grant legislation was written to preclude most other organizations from applying. The announcement and awarding of the funds were in such rapid succession that no other groups had a chance. United Sportsmen was the only applicant. As Suder and Kohl desired, no other organization was even considered for the funding.
The original wording of the bill stated that the grant would be funded through a combination of federal and state contributions. While the grant was under consideration in the Joint Finance Committee, two angry letters were sent to the DNR from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, stating that the plan violated US and state laws. The letters further stated that the scheme would jeopardize $28 million in federal funds through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Act.
Not wanting to lose the federal money, but still wanting to salvage the taxpayer gift to his United Sportsmen supporters, Walker used his veto pen. He changed that section of the state budget to fund the grant entirely from the state coffers. The grant was made to United Sportsmen on August 29. Under intense media scrutiny, the grant was withdrawn eight days later.
Sure, $500,000 is just noise in a $70.1 billion state budget. However, what could Germantown Schools have done with half a million more every two years? How could we have improved sporting use of wilderness areas with those funds? How many more half million dollar pockets of political payback are secreted around the Wisconsin state budget? How many more gifts to political cronies are we financing?
Additional details of the foiled giveaway of taxpayer money to United Sportsmen are uncovered each day. The emerging tawdry tale is one of favors for big donors, plum jobs for legislative staffers, and tit-for-tat political rewards. A special prosecutor should be assigned to ferret-out the truth of this fiasco. The citizens of Wisconsin have a right to know what is being done with our money.