We don’t expect everyone to agree with us in our fight to pass Question 1 in Maine to stop the cruel and unsporting practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. But we do expect a fair election and a government that respects the will of the people, rather than one that attempts impose its will on the people. The ballot initiative process was established as a constitutional right in half the states to be used precisely when obdurate state lawmakers and a governor’s state agencies failed to heed the will of the people. It’s a safety valve, and it has driven essential reforms in our society, including on animal protection – where we’ve seen gains to outlaw cockfighting, extreme confinement of farm animals, and captive hunts. And, of course, baiting, hounding, and trapping.
What’s happening in Maine is a vivid case example of an overreaching, unethical involvement by the state in elections. Specifically, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) is engaged in full-throated electioneering against Question 1, and new documents that we’ve obtained reveal an agency that’s used the full range of its assets to influence the election. For months, the agency has been publicly proffering the notion that it’s only providing the indisputable conclusions of sound wildlife management, as if the answers are as clear as a scientist offering details about gravity or the speed of light. In fact, they’ve confused their ideology with biology, and are trying to pull a fast one on the public.
The emails that a Maine court forced the IF&W to release this week reveal that over a year ago the agency made a political decision to oppose Question 1, possibly after meeting with hunting lobbyists and the state’s governor. Since then, the agency has used the public’s money to wage a covert and deceptive political campaign against the ballot initiative. The emails show:
- IF&W made a “major commitment” to defeating Question 1, spending countless hours of paid staff time on campaigning and even setting aside “a few staff people dedicated to working on” it.
- The agency spent tens of thousands of dollars of public money on campaign materials and outside consultants.
- Agency staff made public and private campaign appearances across the state on work time, including hand-in-hand collaboration with the official opposition campaign and key lobbyists representing hunting and trapping interests.
Indeed, IF&W has apparently also cracked down on dissenting viewpoints within its own staff cohort. In one email, IF&W wildlife division leader Judy Camuso cautions, “All staff need to know what our position is, where we are coming from, and everyone needs to be on the same page.” Dissenting biologists are apparently not allowed to let science stand in the way of IF&W’s zeal to defeat Question 1. In 2003, an IF&W biologist was demoted after he issued a scientific report critical of the cruelty in coyote trapping practices allowed by the agency.
Given this manifest disregard for good government and democratic principles, it should come as no surprise that one employee even stated that he “would like to do away with all referendums.”
The emails also cast doubt on the sincerity of IF&W’s own messages. For months, the opposition has been running an ad featuring uniformed IF&W staff calling Question One “a serious threat to public safety.” Yet even IF&W chief bear biologist Randy Cross – himself a bear baiter and trapper — notes in one email, “Since there has not been an unprovoked bear attack in the history of white settlement in Maine, it is not a realistic threat.”
At the federal level, the Hatch Act prohibits government agencies from spending the public’s money telling the public how to vote – as do mini-Hatch acts in many states. The New York Supreme Court has explained why: “It would be establishing a dangerous and untenable precedent to permit the government, or any agency thereof, to use public funds to disseminate propaganda in favor of or against any issue or candidate. This may be done by totalitarian, dictatorial or autocratic governments but cannot be tolerated, directly or indirectly, in these democratic United States of America.”
Maine law is less clear on the point, although that doesn’t change the principle. Imagine if, when Congress had been considering Wall Street reforms, financial regulators had run a covert campaign to undermine the regulations on behalf of big banks. Or imagine, for that matter, if IF&W had decided to campaign for Governor LePage directly, rather than just campaigning on his behalf against Question One.
IF&W’s electioneering against a citizen’s initiative is wrong – just like the three cruel practices it defends. We’ll be campaigning hard through Election Day to end these abusive practices in Maine. The fate of bears and good government hangs in the balance.
Paid for with regulated funds by the committee of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, PO Box 15367, Portland, ME 04112.