January 15, 2014
Sportsmen's Groups Should Publish a Congressional Report Card
By Bob Marshall
My New Year's resolutions included the following pledges: Never avoid unpleasant subjects, but always suggest solutions.
The following questions-and-answers are offered to honor those aims.
1. What word best describes how many members of Congress view sportsmen's conservation groups:
E) All of the above.
The answer: E.
2. How do you change that?
Answer: Compile scorecards revealing their votes on important bills, and send them out to sportsmen.
The lesson of question No. 1 is written in the congressional record of the last few years. If you page through past posts here at The Conservationist, you'll notice the same issues coming up again and again and again. And you'll also notice that each of the last few years has ended with sportsmen claiming "victory" by limiting damages, not stopping them. It's like saying Pearl Harbor was a victory because we didn't lose the carriers.
This is not meant to insult the many dedicated, hardworking folks pounding the halls of Congress for sportsmen's conservation groups. It's an attempt to share with sportsmen the reality these selfless people endure for our benefit.
The work of lobbying politicians is seldom an ego-builder—unless the interest group you work for represents millions in campaign contributions or votes. An advocacy group representing big-donor industries such as energy or land development will get plenty of face time and plenty of votes. But someone knocking on doors for the environmental protections required for quality hunting and fishing gets little of each.
Many sportsmen are under the mistaken impression their favorite congressperson is only dismissive of green advocates from the hard-core environmental groups. It's an easy mistake to make, because that Senator or Representative is always ready to show up at a DU banquet or send out rousing press releases supporting the Second Amendment. They say how much they love us and how hard they work for us.
But the ugly truth is that once they head back to D.C., most of your congressional delegation has likely been voting against your best interests.
Yet once those disappointing votes are cast, the folks working on our behalf at sportsmen's conservation groups have to swallow their pride and continue to treat the offending pols as if they're sportsmen's best friends. They turn the other cheek again and again because they know just how much more damage that pol can do if he or she gets really angry.
These votes against sportsmen's interests have been more numerous and egregious in the last four to six years than ever before. Because they have brought funding for conservation almost to a standstill, the damage is piling up.
Veteran sportsmen's lobbyists know irreparable harm is being done and are desperate to get sportsmen off their shell buckets and vocally into the fight. I have a few solutions to suggest.
First, start naming names. Don't send out press releases saying "Congress" failed to vote the right way when only certain members of congress were the miscreants.
Traditionally sportsmen's conservation groups have avoided being totally honest with their members for fear of alienating the pols named. But how effective has that been? When the offending congressmen and women know they won't be held accountable for their votes, where's the deterrent?
Take a lesson from the League of Conservation Voters. For years they have maintained the National Environmental Scorecard that allows any voters to find out how his delegation has voted on key pieces of environmental legislation. You can go there now, click on your state, discover how your pols voted, and what grade the LCV thinks they should have on green issues.
Unfortunately, while the LCV tracks many of the same issues important to sportsmen, they pass on others—and some bills they like would not best serve sportsmen's interests.
That's why we need a National Sportsmen's Conservation Scorecard. The effort should track not just final votes on key bills, but also votes as the measure moves through the committee process.
The groups should put that scorecard on your Web site, then send releases to the media and special emails to members each time a key vote is taken.
Let the rank-and-file sportsmen know how the pols representing them voted.
Will that anger some of the politicians? Sure.
But ask yourself this final question:
3. What do politicians call a group they keep taking advantage of?
Answer: See Question No. 1 above.