One should be aware that money and financial interests play a dominant role in our state’s politics. No surprises there, of course, but there will always be attempts to convince the public that those who support or oppose a given measure are funded by outside sources whereas their opponents are all homegrown Mainers who resent being told what to do by those who don’t live here.
It’s the darker side of the ‘from away’ perception that many have experienced, and it is deeply ironic since the only people in most of our country who could not be labeled as ‘from away’ would be the Native Americans – what Canada calls the First Nation –who lived here for thousands of years long before the Europeans arrived.
This specious dichotomy between those who are from away and those who aren’t was brought to the forefront last September when Commissioner Woodcock of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spoke at a press conference declaring that supporters of the referendum which would have ended the baiting, hounding and trapping of bears were “ a group of well-funded, out-of-state activists who are more concerned about advancing their own agenda than they are the welfare of our own residents.”
Who did the Commissioner have in mind? He didn’t mean the Virginia-based NRA or the out-of-state trophy hunters who kill most of our bears. Instead, he meant the Washington-D.C. based Humane Society of the United States, even though the Society, like the Democratic and Republican parties (and the NRA), is a national and local organization with national and local constituencies, some 80,000 of whom live in our state.
The implication of the Commissioner’s statement was that a conspiracy was afoot, brought about by sinister forces whose ultimate goal was to end all hunting. No one mentioned – and certainly not the Commissioner – that in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where Society-supported bearbaiting referenda have passed, traditional hunting actually increased by nearly 300%, providing revenue to states and businesses. Of course, Commissioner Woodcock could have remained neutral, but by taking a partisan stand he threw the weight of government authority toward opponents of referendum and set the tone for the IFW to do likewise.
Why was the Humane Society a major donor of the referendum? The reason is simple economics. Mainers who supported the referendum – individuals, small businesses, animal shelters, and so on – simply did not have the financial resources that are available to the state’s powerful hunting and trapping lobby and therefore have to rely on outside funding to bear the expenses – well over $2,000,000 – of a campaign. That doesn’t mean their convictions were less strong; it just means their pockets weren’t as deep.
By contrast the opposition could (and did) call on a number of in-state organizations such as the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the Maine Trappers Association, not to mention the Maine Professional Guides Association which alone contributed $121,000. Donations were also received from numerous Maine outfitters and guiding businesses as well as trapping and hunting organizations that had a financial stake in the outcome.
But let’s not forget something that was seldom (if ever) written about by local journalists – the opposition was also heavily financed by out-of-state money. A small sample – very small -from the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices included the NRA ($39,000), the Ohio-based U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance ($125.000), the Washington, D.C.-based Ballot Issues Coalition ($45,000), Safari Club International ($40,600), the Vermont Bear Hound Association ($10,000), the Vermont Trappers Association ($27,500), the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association ($10,000), the Dallas (Texas) Safari Club ($7500), and the Trappers Associations of Ohio and Pennsylvania ($20,000).
Outside money on both sides of the referendum? No doubt about it. Was the impression given by the media and the opposition that the only out-of-state financial source was the Humane Society? Also, no doubt about it – but there’s an important difference. The opposition wanted to maintain the status quo of baiting, hounding and trapping, the licensing fees they generate and the revenue stream they produce. The Humane Society had no financial motive to support the referendum; its goal was to end cruelty, something it’s been doing nationwide ever since it was founded in 1954.
One thing’s for sure – even though the referendum failed, many of the state’s residents are not happy about baiting, trapping and hounding bears. So long as our legislators refuse to act on behalf of all citizens instead of the hunting/trapping minority, so long as the hunting lobby continues to support unfair and unsporting practices in place of Maine’s proud tradition of fair-chase hunting, the issue is not decided. The struggle to end cruelty continues as it always has and always will.