Using Wolves to Hunt Republicans
Wildlife Group Asserts Goal is to ‘Replace Problem Officials’
This report is part of an ongoing oversight investigation into the funding and partisan political activities of environmental groups.
This election season, Republicans are being hunted by wolves, and it appears that these wolves have hit the campaign trail with a targeted agenda. They are blaming high gas prices on Republicans, calling Republicans corrupt, and criticizing Republican energy policy, all at the expense of the American taxpayer and courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, a status granted because of their cause to champion wildlife preservation. The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund bills itself as protecting wildlife and their habitats; one of its top causes is preserving wolves and their habitat, even featuring them on their official seal and their material. So this election season, instead of advocating for wolves and raising issues about wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund have been abusing their tax-exempt status to attack Republicans on issues completely unrelated to their mission.
Four recent campaign advertisements from the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) group, have surfaced as clear examples of environmental groups engaging in political activity exclusively against Republican candidates under the veil of an environmental cause. Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) ongoing oversight investigation into the multi-million dollar funding and partisan political activities of environmental groups has revealed many environmental groups are essentially a funding and advocacy arm of the Democratic Party. [ See: Inhofe Report Exposes Environmental Groups as ‘Massive Democratic Political Machines’ ] The oversight investigation has found that instead of using contributions to address wildfire and environmental issues, many environmental groups are instead using the money for partisan political purposes.
These findings were reinforced by an October 22, 2008, article in the trade publication Greenwire on the partisan activity of major environmental groups in battleground political campaigns. The article concluded, “In every instance, the environmental groups are backing the Democrat.” [ See: Update: Environmental Groups Exposed: ‘Every dollar spent has been aimed at helping Democrats’ – October 22, 2008 ]
All of Defenders of Wildlife’s activity so far this election season has focused on running negative campaigns against Republican candidates. This certainly should raise questions about the organization’s activities and their tax exempt designation.
Rodger Schlickeisen, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, states bluntly, “In this political era, the worst enemy of responsible environmental protection and conservation continues to be our elected leaders in Washington. It is not enough for the environmental community to focus on persuading elected officials to be good stewards of our land, air and water; it must hold accountable and replace problem officials themselves [emphasis added]. The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund does just that.”
Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund receives an IRS tax-exempt status despite the fact that the group is dedicated to “replac[ing] problem officials.” These facts raise the question of how an organization can make political statements as contained in the example ads while NOT focusing primarily on political campaigning. Under the scope of promoting the general welfare, 501(c)(4) groups can engage in political activities, including promoting a candidate, as long as campaigning is not the group’s primary purpose, according to the Internal Revenue Service. A 501(c)(4)’s general lobbying efforts are almost unlimited; as the 2008 campaign season enters the final stretch, considerable sums of money have been spent on campaigning and advertising by 501(c)(4) environmental groups, and spending most likely will increase up to November 4th.
Four recent Defenders of Wildlife ads were released as part of a series the organization has put together this election season. Senator Inhofe’s investigation has found that every action that the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund has taken during this election cycle has been campaign related. Most strikingly, there is no instance where Defenders of Wildlife has spent funds on actual wildlife preservation and aid, the very cause which they claim to champion and raise money to address.
The first television commercial, attacking Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM), claims that New Mexico deserves answers from Mr. Pearce regarding the sale of his business in 2003. The content of this ad has nothing to do with wildlife; it does not even address the controversial reintroduction of the Mexican wolf to regions in New Mexico, yet the producer of this ad is a tax exempt organization dedicated to “protecting and restoring America’s native wildlife.”
The second ad Defenders of Wildlife produces is also an attack advertisement against Representative Pearce. The advertisement is shrink-wrapped onto a car that is used by campaign staff hired to canvas New Mexico in opposition to Pearce. The ad reads, “Steve Pearce: Tax Breaks for Big Oil; High Gas Costs for You!”
Once again, this is an ad that has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to the mission statement of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund or the reason the group was granted tax exempt status. They have disclosed that they retain paid staff in New Mexico working for the sole purpose of defeating Mr. Pearce. Why would a wildlife organization care so much about high gas prices to warrant using the subject to attack on Mr. Pearce? Why are they not using wildlife issues in their attack on Mr. Pearce?
The third ad by Defenders of Wildlife is a television commercial attacking Representative Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO). The commercial calls Musgrave corrupt and blames her for giving tax breaks to Big Oil and supporting a bill that would reduce capital-gains taxes on coins and precious metals.
Do capital-gains taxes and oil prices really impact wolves and other wildlife directly? Why does an organization with the purpose of protecting wildlife use these issues in their attack ads in place of wildlife issues? Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund has made this race a top target and has dispatched their top campaigner to Colorado 4th district to run its Musgrave Campaign. This is the same staffer who ran the organization’s efforts to unseat former GOP House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo in 2006.
The fourth ad is a television commercial against Representative Don Young (R-AK) from Alaska. This ad has a photo of Young smiling with the Federal Bureau of Investigation building next to him. The ad asks “Why is this man smiling?” and then goes on to say, “Because he thinks he is above the law . . . Don Young is under four separate federal investigations for abusing his office . . . He even refuses to protect Alaska from global warming.” Once again, this ad has nothing to do with wildlife. With the myriad wildlife issues facing Alaska, why is a dedicated wildlife organization resorting to smearing campaigns on issues that have nothing to do with wildlife?
Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is not acting in isolation, as these types of activities have become quite common among many environmental organizations who appear to be far more interested in partisan politics than environmental causes. Stay tuned for further investigations of this growing problem in the coming days and weeks.
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