GOP crafts sweetheart deal for well-connected backers

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

It began just prior to my leaving for a week fly-in fishing trip to Conver Lake, Ontario, Canada.

News began to appear, that what should have been positive amendment to the state budget by a couple of members on the Joint Finance Committee, turned out to be a sweetheart deal for a few well connect people. Well, I’m back and it turns the information that has come to light, sadly, turns out worse than I thought.

On Monday, August 26, Jason Stein and Paul Smith (J/S Outdoor Writer) broke the story on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As reported by Stein and Smith, “A $500,000 sportsmen’s grant slipped into the state budget earlier this summer (after only seven minutes of discussion) is set to go to a group with ties to Republican insiders that has praised GOP politicians and lobbied for legislation such as lowering regulations on iron mining and development to wetlands.”

They went on to write that “The United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation Inc., a group formed in January with no record of its own in outdoors training, is the only applicant for the scantly noticed two-year grant to promote hunting, fishing and trapping in Wisconsin ...”

Now you just cannot make the following stuff up. The amend- ment was drafted by outgoing Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) and Rep. Dan LeMahieu (R-Cascade).

Suder’s former chief of staff Luke Hilgemann became a leading member to organize the only group who applied along with reports that indicate they had very questionable skills in running such a grant program.

What is also disturbing, according to the J/S reporters, the Joint Finance Committee amendment limited others from applying. “The motion said the grant can be given only to groups that are ‘‘not an affiliate of a national federation organization.” That meant conservation groups such as the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and state chapters of Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation were prevented from applying for the grant.

The reporters go on to write “And due to the lack of public notice, several eligible groups weren’t aware of the grant until after application deadline.”

Don Kirby, executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, said he had no knowledge of the grant. He want on to say his organization would have been interested in seeking the grant.

To top it off, once the grant had been presented, after two years the grant will become automatic and provide $450,000 a year to the winning group in perpetuity but would be required to include some matching ($150,000) dollars. Interestingly, the J/S article says the only group applying, United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, would use $370,000 for salaries, $20,000 on employee benefits, plus $56,000 on unidentified consultants. Not much left to promote hunting, fishing and trapping

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