MADISON, Wis. — Despite mounting questions and growing evidence that top Republican leaders went to great lengths to ensure a taxpayer funded grant went to a politically connected special interest group, the grant was approved on Thursday. One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross lambasted the approval of the grant in light of the burgeoning scandal surrounding the provision creating the program in the 2013 state budget.
Ross commented, “As questions mount and evidence of impropriety emerges, the people of Wisconsin deserve answers about how their money will be spent on this program. Instead of getting answers, the committee handpicked to approve the grant by the Assembly Majority Leader rushed to get the money out the door this week.”
Under a provision slipped into the at the behest of Assembly Republican Majority Leader Scott Suder, $500,000 in the 2013-15 budget cycle will be given to a group selected by a special committee to promote hunting, fishing and trapping. United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, the only applicant for the grant, has no experience running such programs, but is run by a number of donors to Suder’s campaign and associated with his former Chief of Staff.
Legislative drafting records reviewed by One Wisconsin Now further revealed Suder himself was personally involved in crafting the details of the grant provisions and changes were made that could allow groups endorsing and spending money to elect partisan politicians to qualify for taxpayer funds.
United Sportsmen of Wisconsin has extensive ties with right wing political groups like the NRA and Americans for Prosperity. They participated in a misleading absentee ballot mailing in the 2011 legislative recall elections, endorsed the re-election of Gov. Walker in his 2012 recall and co-hosted a rally exclusively featuring GOP officials in the days before the 2012 November election. In addition, the “sportsmen’s” group lobbied extensively on behalf of the Republicans top legislative priority in the 2012 session, passage of a bill paving the way for a four-mile wide pit mine in a pristine environmental area of Northern Wisconsin.
According to Ross specific, serious questions that remain unanswered by the author of the provision or by Gov. Walker who signed it into law include:
Why was the legislation changed to remove a provision requiring the organization receiving the grant to have 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status?
Who requested and/or approved that modification to the law?
Why has United Wisconsin Sportsmen not made publicly available documentation about their tax status or federally required IRS Form 990s to demonstrate their financial viability?
Why, after serious questions were raised, did the committee rush to approve the grant instead of re-opening the application process or requiring additional information from the lone applicant to resolve questions?
Was Gov. Walker, an alleged opponent of egregious budget earmarks such as this, unaware of the provisions in the budget he signed in to law?
“From start to finish this has been a sweetheart deal for politically connected insiders and special interests groups with a long history of supporting the Republicans that saw it made it into law. If it looks like a payoff and acts like a payoff, it’s probably a payoff,” concluded Ross.