AUGUSTA – The Maine Ethics Commission has launched a preliminary investigation into the lobbying activities of the Maine State Director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a powerful anti-hunting lobbying organization.
The investigation follows a legislator’s complaint that Katie Hansberry, HSUS’s Maine State Director, has not filed basic lobbying paperwork despite having conducted extensive political advocacy throughout the current legislative session.
“We will be requesting a response from Katie Hansberry,” said Maine Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne. “She disclosed that she was new in her position and might not have been aware of the filing requirements.”
Wayne could not say whether HSUS would be forced to pay fines, which would amount to $100 for every month Hansberry failed to submit the required filings.
“She has promised her cooperation,” said Wayne.
Hansberry, who joined HSUS in April of 2012, is an attorney whose professional focus has centered on animal welfare laws. She said that she submitted her information to the state, but did not complete a final step of the lobbyist registration process.
“This is my first session lobbying,” said Hansberry, who has not previously lobbied in other states.
“This was not an attempt to subvert the disclosure process,” she said. “As soon as they brought it to my attention, I took steps to comply with the law.”
Contrary to what most Mainers may believe, HSUS spends a very small portion of its $120 million annual budget on pet shelters. In 2011, HSUS spent nearly half of its total budget advocating for public policies – a fact that is difficult to glean from its heart-wrenching ads depicting suffering cats and dogs.
According to state records, HSUS has disclosed extensive lobbying in previous years, but has not filed any disclosures for the 126th Legislature. The organization has, however, advocated both in the State House and in the court of public opinion for and against specific legislation.
HSUS’s lobbying activities have revolved primarily around two bills – a proposed constitutional amendment that would make hunting and fishing a protected right in Maine (L.D. 1303) and a measure to prohibit the hounding and trapping of bear (L.D. 1474).
In a June 9 op-ed for the Lewiston-based Sun Journal, Hansberry urged legislators to oppose L.D. 1303, a bill that would prevent national interest groups like HSUS from initiating ballot referenda designed to curtail certain hunting practices.
The bill, Hansberry wrote, is a “heavy-handed power grab designed to silence the voters.” She wrote that “certain groups in Augusta, such as the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, are afraid of what might happen if voters are given the chance to weigh in.”
Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) David Trahan said he is not surprised that HSUS has found itself on the wrong side of the Ethics Commission.
“From some of the things they’ve said and done, I’ve learned not to trust them,” said Trahan.
In a recent op-ed for the Bangor Daily News, Trahan wrote about an interaction with five HSUS lobbyists who levied an ethically questionable threat:
“We have $3 million dollars, polling data that says we can win a bear referendum in Maine, and if SAM will support L.D. 1474, HSUS will not submit a referendum to ban trapping and hounding,” the lobbyists said, according to Trahan.
With numerous lawyers on its payroll, Trahan said its difficult to believe that HSUS was unaware of Maine’s lobbying disclosure laws. He said he suspects Hansberry’s failure to file lobbying disclosures was an intentional effort to fly under the radar following national criticism that the group, which operates as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit, is too political.
In May of 2010, U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) sent a letter to Lois G. Lerner, the now-infamous Director of Exempt Organizations for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), expressing concerns over HSUS’s non-profit status. Lerner has recently resigned from the IRS following the shocking revelation that her department targeted conservative tea-party groups with heightened scrutiny.
In his letter to Lerner, Luetkemeyer wrote that his constituents “remain concerned that HSUS is abusing their tax-exempt status” and provided information justifying their concerns.
“The attached information unquestionably demonstrates that HSUS invests a substantial amount of time and money in political campaigns and attempts to influence specific legislation, a clear and direct violation of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code,” Luetkemeyer stated in the letter.
According to news reports, Lerner ignored Leutkemeyer’s request, perhaps because she was too busy using the power of the IRS to suppress conservative voters.
In May, an article in the Washington, D.C.-based Daily Caller questioned whether Lerner, who is an “active member” of HSUS, shielded the anti-hunting group from scrutiny. The article noted that HSUS spends less than one percent of its total revenue on animal shelters, a fact Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS, did not refute in a 2012 interview with the Washington Post.
“We have never represented ourselves as giving all of our money to pet shelters, not on any ad. In fact, our TV ads say specifically that we do not fund shelters, and that those local groups are independent,” Pacelle said, according to the Post.
According to biologists at Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine’s bear population has increased 67 percent to over 30,000 in the last ten years while the number of bear hunters has declined significantly, prompting a spike in bear-related complaints. While SAM maintains that trapping and hounding are the most effective means to manage Maine’s bear population, HSUS says the practices are cruel.