TODAY’S STUDY: THE HUNT CLUB’S WAR ON CONSERVATION
Oil and Gas Industry Investments in the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International Reshaping American Energy, Land, and Wildlife Policy
Matt Lee-Ashley, April 2014 (Center for American Progress)
Introduction and Summary
Two bedrock principles have guided the work and advocacy of American sportsmen n for more than a century. First, under the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, wildlife in the United States is considered a public good to be conserved for everyone and accessible to everyone, not a commodity that can be bought and owned by the highest bidder.1
Second, since President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the first wildlife refuges and national forests, sportsmen have fought to protect wildlife habitat from development and fragmentation to ensure healthy game supplies.
These two principles, however, are coming under growing fire from an aggressive and coordinated campaign funded by the oil and gas industry.
As part of a major effort since 2008 to bolster its lobbying and political power, the oil and gas industry has steadily expanded its contributions and influence over several major conservative sportsmen’s organizations, including Safari Club International, or SCI, the National Rifle Association, or NRA, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. The first two organizations have assumed an increasingly active and vocal role in advancing energy industry priorities, even when those positions are in apparent conflict with the interests of hunters and anglers who are their rank-and-file members. The third group, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, or CSF, is also heavily funded by oil and gas interests and plays a key role in providing energy companies, SCI, the NRA, gun manufacturers, and other corporate sponsors with direct access to members of Congress.
The growing influence of the oil and gas industry on these powerful groups is reshaping the politics, policies, and priorities of American land and wildlife conservation.
In this report, we identify three high-profile debates in which the growing influence of the oil and gas industry in SCI, CSF, the NRA and other conservative sportsmen groups could play a decisive role in achieving outcomes that are beneficial to energy companies at the expense of habitat protection, science-based management, and hunter and angler access to wildlife and public lands. These areas to watch are:
• Endangered and threatened wildlife in oil- and gas-producing regions: The case of the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken
• The backcountry: How the oil and gas industry and its allies are working to undo protections of roadless areas and wilderness study areas
• Public access and ownership: The movement to privatize public lands and wildlife
The oil and gas industry’s growing investment in conservative sportsmen groups is already yielding ever-greater influence over legislation and policy decisions that benefit the industry’s financial interests at the expense of hunters and anglers.
Understanding and tracking this powerful lobbying alliance is of increasing importance e to those who believe that American sportsmen can and should continue to be the standard-bearers for our nation’s conservation tradition and champions for those who wish to defend the principles that have guided North American land and wildlife stewardship for more than a century.
Oil and gas industry investments in three major sportsmen groups
Since the 2008 presidential election, the oil and gas industry has expanded its investments in Congressional lobbying, political campaigns, and advertising to help advance and defend its policy agenda in Washington. Between 2008 and 2013, the oil and gas industry spent $898 million to lobby Congress, an increase of 127 percent over the previous six years.2
In 2012, fossil-fuel industries and their allies spent a record $270 million on television advertising alone to help elect their preferred candidates, including $176 million to defeat President Barack Obama.3 Since then, trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, or API, have spent millions more on so-called “branding” campaigns, which use television ads such as “I’m an Energy Voter” to create the impression of widespread popular support for the industry’s agenda.4 Taken together, these investments have helped defeat climate change legislation in Congress, preserve tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, slow and weaken environmental protection rules, and pressure federal officials to further expand and accelerate oil and gas leasing on public lands.
New evidence indicates that, as part of its policy and political strategy, the oil and gas industry is now also heavily investing in and influencing at least three of the nation’s most powerful sportsmen’s organizations: Safari Club International, the National Riflemen’s Association, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.
Together, at least 28 oil, gas, and energy companies have made financial investments in the NRA and CSF since 2010, and, although SCI does not list its corporate donors publicly, Federal Election Commission files show that the oil and gas industry is a major contributor to its political action committee.5 The contributions are so significant that oil and gas companies now represent as much as 28.5 percent of the NRA’s corporate giving program.
It is important to note that because these three organizations do not publicly disclose their donors, it is difficult to measure the full extent of the oil and gas industry’s investments in them. Nonetheless, a review of publicly available information reveals that oil and gas companies not only heavily finance these organizations, they are also closely connected to them through their boards, consultants, lobbyists, and a revolving door of staff, including former political appointees in the President George W. Bush administration. We found, for example, at least 10 individuals with oil and gas industry ties who have been playing prominent roles in and for the groups since 2010.7
Let’s look at each group more closely…Safari Club International…The National Rifle Association…Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation…Impact of influence: How the oil and gas industry’s investments are paying off…Threats to endangered and threatened wildlife in oil- and gas-producing regions…Threats to the backcountry…Threats to public access and ownership…
The oil and gas industry’s investments in sportsmen groups such as SCI, the NRA, and CSF are, by all appearances, reaping significant benefits for industry at the expense of wildlife and our public lands. Through SCI and the NRA, industry has gained powerful allies in opposing the conservation of at-risk wildlife in areas with oil and gas reserves, working to weaken protections for the backcountry and endorsing the commodification and privatization of public resources. CSF, for its part, enables oil and gas companies, their trade associations, and their lobbyists unmatched access to members of Congress to help advance these and other industry priorities.
With such promising returns—in the form of even greater access to decision makers and powerful allies speaking for their interests—we expect the oil and gas industry’s investments in SCI, the NRA, CSF, and other conservative sportsmen groups to only grow in the coming years. As they do, SCI and the NRA are likely to stray even further from the principles of conservation that American sportsmen have championed for the past century. This ongoing shift has severe implications for U.S. natural resource and wildlife policy. We have identified three areas, in particular, to watch over the coming year to gauge the evolving role of oil and gas industry influence on SCI and NRA priorities, specifically:
1. How prominent and forceful of a role will SCI and NRA play in opposing science-based efforts to conserve and recover the greater sage grouse?
2. Will SCI and the NRA translate their failed efforts to lift roadless protections through H.R. 1581 into a broader and more visible campaign to block the passage of legislative and administrative efforts to protect new wilderness, monuments, and parks?
3. Will SCI and the NRA actively support efforts to privatize federal lands or transfer them to states?
For both SCI and the NRA, taking any of these steps would represent an even more radical shift away from the traditional mainstream values of American sportsmen. And given their political power and financial resources, the continuing anti-conservation advocacy of SCI and the NRA will have lasting consequences for the management of public lands and wildlife at the expense of the public interest and America’s outdoor traditions.