Maine Ethics Commission to investigate anti-hunting group

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The Humane Society of the United States, which led an effort to limit bear hunting in Maine ten years ago, has become the subject of a Maine Ethics Commission investigation.

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.

Katie Hansberry (Source: HumaneSociety.org)
Katie Hansberry (Source: HumaneSociety.org)

“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.

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

14 COMMENTS

  1. You are correct in that, Jeff. Which is why the federal letters to the IRS regarding them. I know here in my state, they had 4 paid lobbyists this session and the last couple. Also, Wayne Pacelle has boasted in interviews that HSUS (NOT HSLF, like they are saying is their 501(c)4) has gotten over 1000 (yes that is 3 zeros) laws passed in the last 10 years. If that isn’t extensive lobbying activity, then I don’t know what is.

  2. she is kidding right? HSUS has lobbyists in every state.. in many states more than one. and she does not know how to register? Her “boss” never told her the rules? That little “sit down” reported should give everyone a bit of an inside look at the ethics of the HSUS. Thanks for posting the great video..tells it like it really is.

  3. She said the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine are worried what might happen if the voters are given a chance to weigh in. WRONG! We are just tired of out of state interests drifting in here and trying to shove their agendas down our throats! Don’t like the way Mainers live? Jump on the turnpike heading south until you reach Kittery, then cross the big bridge, problem solved!

  4. Mainers aren’t involved in how Florida manages gators or Montana manages Elk, People from away shouldn’t be involved in the scientific management of Maine’s black bears.

  5. She doesn’t care about the bears. She’s just looking for away to get money. Why would you take away our way of life so you can live yours. She just wants every buddy and their brother doing her dirty work. I know what she needs to do so can get more money. A JOB. A lot of people need to do their research instead of believing her and what people have to say about bear hunting. Now you know she just wants money and used you guys to get this far.

  6. She was in the position for 2 years! Plus she is an attorney? She should know the rules by now. I’d say she should lose her job but she’s one of the best advocates the opponents of the bear referendum has.
    Certainly, fine hsus, that’s a given, they know the rules…and while you’re at it, throw out the ballot question! They broke the rules! How many rules do they get to break before the state fines them and kicks them out of Maine? Many rules were broken in the petition gathering campaign. 14,000+ signature thrown out because they were not permitted? Should have been grounds to threw out the whole petition not just those signatures.
    Be a like a guy brings in 5 deer to the tagging station and is told ” sorry we can only tag one of these deer, the others were improperly obtained…
    Unbelievable…..

  7. CharityWatch (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy) reissued HSUS’s “D” rating in December 2011, finding that HSUS spends as little as 49 percent of its budget on its programs. Additionally, the 2011 Animal People News Watchdog Report discovered that HSUS spends about 43 percent of its budget on overhead costs. CharityWatch founder and president, Daniel Borochoff says someone who really wanted to help animals should contribute elsewhere. “If you like getting those mailings and want to pay for more of them, support the Humane Society,” says Borochoff. “If you want to give more for programs or services that benefit animals and advocate better rules and protections for animals, they are not a good target because the portion of their budget they give to these programs is too small.” Nathan Winograd, an author and prominent advocate of “no-kill” animal shelters, says the disagreement is emblematic of a larger problem with HSUS. “Only the leadership of HSUS could contrive fundraising letters as program expenses,” Winograd says. “If they actually spent as much time, energy, and money on saving animals as they now only pretend to, not only would they not have to cover up their failures to do so with these kinds of mental gymnastics, they could truly be the heroes they now only pretend to be.”…….Smoke and mirrors… this is the true story as to the real motivations of HSUS

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