Defenders of Wildlife’s Partisan & Misleading Ads on Aerial Wolf Hunt
Follow up to Inhofe Report Exposes Environmental Groups as ‘Massive Democratic Political Machines’
This report is part of an ongoing oversight investigation into the funding and partisan political activities of environmental groups.
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In September 2008, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund launched a graphic television ad condemning Senator McCain’s Vice Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and her support for aerial wolf hunting. This ad has been both a virtual cash machine for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, as well as a targeted attack at one of their political adversaries. The group claims to have raised $600,000 in the first six hours after the ad was released. To date they have raised a total of $1 million from the ad. See September 25, 2008 report about the questionable political activities of environmental organizations that are often disguised as environmental causes. Inhofe Report Exposes Environmental Groups as ‘Massive Democratic Political Machines’
Defenders of Wildlife’s 2005 IRS 990 form, the most recently available, shows the organization’s total revenue in 2005 was $1.7 million and total expenses were $2.1 million. With one political campaign ad, the organization has raised over half of their 2005 budget in less than one month. This is a significant source of income from a politically driven campaign.
The facts presented in the ad are questionable. Here is an excerpt from the ad:
“The more voters learn about Sarah Palin (R-AK), the less there is to like. As Alaska governor, Sarah Palin actively promotes the brutal and unethical aerial hunting of wolves and other wildlife,” the narrator says.
“Using a low-flying plane, they kill in winter, when there is no way to escape. Riddled with gunshots, biting at their backs in agony, they die a brutal death. And Palin even encouraged the cruelty by proposing a $150 bounty for the severed foreleg of each killed wolf. And then introduced a bill to make the killing easier,” the narrator says. “Do we really want a vice president who champions such savagery?”
Though the ad is graphic, it provides an incomplete picture, and attempts to place doubts in voters’ minds about electing Sarah Palin as Vice President. The ad presents a clear example of environmental groups engaging in political activity, with only the veil of an environmental cause.
The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is registered as a 501(c)(4), operating as a tax- exempt organization. Unlike 501(c)(3) organizations, donations to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax deductible. Under the scope of promoting the general welfare, the 501(c)(4) organizations can engage in political activities with fewer restrictions than a 501(c)(3). For example, a 501(c)(4)’s general lobbying efforts are almost unlimited. Additionally, a 501(c)(4) can promote a candidate for office, as long as campaigning is not the organization’s primary purpose according to the IRS.
It appears Defenders of Wildlife’s purpose is political campaigning. From looking at the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund IRS Form 990’s and their publicly available information on their website, it is not clear that they spend any of the money they raise on behalf of wolves actually helping wolf populations.
‘Replace Problem Officials’ in DC
The group’s own website highlights their political activities, stating that the organization focuses on stopping the alleged anti-conservation policies of the Bush administration and, in the past, the alleged anti-conservation policies of the Congress. It educates the public about the legislative records of members of Congress through its Conservation Report Card. According to their website, the group lobbies to defeat bad policies and enact good ones, and runs public education campaigns designed to hold Representatives and Senators accountable for their actions.
Rodger Schlickeisen, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, says it best, “In this political era, the worst enemy of responsible environmental protection and conservation continues to be our elected leaders in Washington. It is not enough for the environmental community to focus on persuading elected officials to be good stewards of our land, air and water; it must hold accountable and replace problem officials themselves [emphasis added]. The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund does just that.”
Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund receives an IRS tax-exempt status, despite the fact that the group is dedicated to “replac[ing] problem officials” – those they do not agree with. These basic facts raise the question of how an organization can generate so much of its funds from political campaigns and make political statements and NOT be primarily focused on political campaigning. According to the IRS, 501(c)(4)s can promote a candidate, as long as campaigning is not the organization’s primary purpose.
Defenders of Wildlife is not acting in isolation as these types of activities have become quite common among many environmental organizations.
The recently released funding report, which focused on the financial intricacies and political ties of major environmental activist groups, found a number of incidents where activities were questionable and the trail of money were tied closely to inherently political activities. See: Inhofe Report Exposes Environmental Groups as ‘Massive Democratic Political Machines’
Many of these organizations are registered as a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) non-profit groups but are clearly and substantial involved in partisan politics.
Because the IRS does not require 501(c) organizations to detail election spending or to list contributors, it is difficult to track their political activity.
Defenders of Wildlife appears to be far more interested in partisan politics than environmental causes. Stay tuned for further investigations of this growing problem in the coming days and weeks.