Thursday, October 3, 2013

United Sportsmen scandal- Pt. 1, Where we've been

That's right, it's time for another installment in our ongoing look into WisGOP corruption. Today, we'll discuss the recent developments on the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin scandal, which had plenty of news come down over the last few days, culminating with Gov Walker trading one corrupt and sketchy GOP Assemblyman for another. But I want to use this first post to remind you of how we got to this point, and then I'll use a 2nd post to talk about what's developing now, and where it seems to be going.

To review, we already know that United Sportsmen of Wisconsin was a thinly-disguised Koch front group with a history of election fraud,and plenty of direct connections to now-former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder. Suder cooked up a taxpayer-funded $500,000 grant for United Sportsmen to perform "hunter education" and related duties, but that grant later was first changed by Gov. Walker to get around federal oversight (and the possible loss of millions of federal funds), and then yanked entirely once it was revealed that United Sportsmen lied about their tax-exempt status to the DNR, and that United Sportsmen's president had previously been arrested and fined for violating hunting laws.

Well, PR Watch gave us a good insight into just what kind of "outdoors education" United Sportsmen of Wisconsin was planning to give. Luke Hilgemann was a former Chief of Staff to Scott Suder, and later became head of the Wisconsin branch of the Koch mouthpiece Americans for Prosperity. He recently left the state to become the Koch's Number 2 guy for AFP in D.C., and an open records request into the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin fiasco showed that in addition to living in right-wing bubble-world, Hilgemann saw the grant as a way to gain political points.
PR Watch isn't attacking George Meyer, the waterfowl association, or any other outdoor group in Wisconsin because while they may be doing good work, they aren't having an impact on public policy like USW has.

If we weren't onto something that here that threatens the lefts (sic) stranglehold on the environment or conservation, these types of stories wouldn't be printed.

They know that if we're successful in educating and exposing a new generation of soccer moms and their children to the outdoors and the sporting pursuits that will eat away at their base
and they won't be able to perpetuate the lies and scare tactics they've used on these groups anymore... (I never knew promoting Wisconsin's outdoors was a partisan thing, did you?)

And that is why we must continue to fight on! Because what we are doing is critical to the future of our sporting heritage and our passion for the outdoors, so again I say BRING IT!
Well, the Journal-Sentinel continued to "bring it" this week, as Jason Stein and Company continue to drip out details on this corrupt group, and I get the idea they already know that it leads to something huge, but they don't want to take a wrong turn on the way to getting there. The most recent revelation involved a United Sportsmen lobbyist taking Suder on a nice, all-expenses paid weekend excursion.
Scott Meyer, United Sportsmen's executive director and lobbyist, sent an email Aug. 16 to Suder and two others detailing plans for three outings over two days.

"Both (Thursday) evening and Friday evening are no charge," Meyer wrote, referring to a charter fishing trip and an outing on a boat owned by a United Sportsmen board member.

The trip came a week before the United Sportsmen Foundation won a $500,000, two-year grant from the state to promote fishing and hunting. In May and June, Suder had worked with other GOP lawmakers to insert a provision into the state budget creating a grant so narrowly tailored that the United Sportsmen Foundation was all but assured of receiving it. The politically active group has scant experience with the kind of training called for in the grant.
Suder claimed that he later paid the money back (after the stories on the fraudulent grant came out), but also is caught in the same story lying when he told the J-S he didn't know Hilgemann was a part of United Sportsmen.

It also turns out that Scott Suder wasn't the only one who wanted United Sportsmen of Wisconsin to get that grant, as Assembly Dem leader Peter Barca released a letter showing that 17 other legislative Republicans signed onto a letter of support for United Sportsmen of Wisconsin for the grant. The letter-writers say they believe that United Sportsmen "not only meets but will exceed the criteria outlined" for this grant, despite the organization having no history of providing any outdoors training or other DNR-type duties, or really much of anything except for being a right-wing electioneering group. Makes you wonder what gave them that confidence - and was it related to a few dollars toward their election bids?

It's worth noting that of the 18 GOP legislators signing onto the letter, many are in their first or second term. This includes Northwoods Reps. Rob Swearingen and Rep. Mary Czaja, and also features vulnerable GOP newcomers like Sen. Frank Lasee, Rep. John Spiros, Rep. Warren Petryk, Rep. Scott Krug, and Rep. John Jagler. It's not hard to imagine that they got some serious NRA and Koch-related support to get their seats, and that this United Sportsmen grant was a "thank you for your support" measure.

And at the top of the list along with Scott Suder? State Senator and Mining Bill co-sponsor Tom Tiffany. Tiffany's 2012 election up North helped to get the Mining Bill the 17-16 approval it received in the Senate early this year, and United Sportsmen of Wisconsin actively lobbied in favor of that mining bill - which seems odd for an "outdoors" organization to do, given that the mine would chew up miles of Northern Wisconsin forest land. Tiffany also is mentioned in the Journal-Sentinel story that brings up Suder's United Sportsmen-sponsored fishing trip.
The day after the last day of the trip, Aug. 24, a Saturday, the United Sportsmen Foundation held a board meeting in the state Capitol. They were able to meet there because Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) had reserved a room for Meyer, who lives in his district.

Suder joined them for part of that meeting. Also at the meeting was David Fladeboe, a former Suder aide who replaced Hilgemann at the helm of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity. United Sportsmen and Americans for Prosperity have teamed up in the past on voter registration drives and a "freedom fest."

Tiffany aide Jennifer Esser was invited to the board meeting as a special guest. Tiffany said Esser allowed the group into the room and locked it up afterward, but did not actually attend the meeting.
Oh, but I'm sure these connections that Tom Tiffany are tied up in are all coincidence, and the have NOTHING to do with a kickback to AFP/Koch. And United Sportsmen and Koch have NOTHING AT ALL to do with the mining companies that GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters were the ones who wrote the mining bill.

So that gives you a (somewhat) brief history of the United Sportsmen scandal through this Tuesday. It's gotten a whole lot more interesting the last 2 days, which I'll hit in part 2.

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