Wisconsin’s DNR Awarded $500,000 in Taxpayer Funds to a Group With Strong GOP Donor Ties

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources awarded a grant to advocate for hunting and fishing in the state.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/GettyImages

As hunting and fishing have become less popular in the state, Wisconsin lawmakers have supported efforts to get young people more interested in outdoorsmanship. So earlier this month, the state Department of Natural Resources quietly decided to offer a $500,000 taxpayer-funded grant to a group that would advocate outdoor sports. The sole applicant and winner of the grant, the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation, has members with ties to national GOP groups, including former lobbyists for the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity. For the record, the NRA donated more than $800,000 to Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign; AFP dropped $3 million.

The DNR announced the grant for hunting groups on its website but didn’t put out a press release about the application, leaving eligible groups unaware of its existence:

Reached last week, Don Kirby, executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, said he had no knowledge of the grant.

“Our organization would have been interested to pursue this,” Kirby said. “I’m more than a little disappointed to find out now.”

Luke Hilgemann, the former chief of staff of the Wisconsin Assembly’s majority leader, is listed as an “educator” for United Sportsmen. Hilgemann recently joined the national office of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ lobbying enterprise, after working for the group’s Wisconsin chapter. Also listed in United Sportsmen’s application is Darren LaSorte, a longtime NRA lobbyist in the state who is now based in Texas.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, United Sportsmen does not have much of a track record training sportsmen. But Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, Hilgemann’s old boss and the lawmaker who put the grant in the state budget, disputes that:

Suder said United Sportsmen was “eminently qualified” to receive the grant but when asked did not offer any specific qualifications.

This isn’t the first time the state DNR has been accused of pay-to-play with political supporters; Walker’s administration isn’t the first to be accused of misusing taxpayer funds; and I wouldn’t go so far as to call United Sportsmen a “Koch front group,” as Daily Kos does. But considering Walker was once convinced to talk at length to a prank caller posing as David Koch, you’d think his administration would be more prudent in associating itself with AFP.