Sportsmen group says it didn't try to mislead
- Associated Press
- September 5, 2013 - 9:30 AM
MADISON, Wis. — At least one member of a politically connected sportsmen's group awarded a $500,000 state grant knew it did not have federal tax-exempt status last week when its president assured a committee recommending approval of the grant that it did.
United Sportsmen of Wisconsin issued a statement on Wednesday saying that its president Andy Pantzlaff had not consulted with the group's attorney and "was mistaken about the exemption process."
The Wisconsin State Journal reported the comments on Thursday (http://tiny.cc/hzwx2w ). The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on Tuesday that the group did not have tax-exempt status, based on records released by the state Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR released an Aug. 22 letter from the IRS denying the group's request for expedited consideration of tax-exempt status. The letter was addressed to group member Annette Olson.
One week after receiving the letter, Pantzlaff assured members of the Sporting Heritage Grant Committee that his group had secured charitable tax-exempt status from the IRS.
"There was no intent to mislead anyone," United Sportsmen said in its statement. "The foundation apologizes for any confusion caused by the misunderstanding."
Last week, after questions were raised about the group's status at the committee hearing, DNR General Counsel Tim Andryk told Secretary Cathy Stepp in a memo that United Sportsmen only needed to be a nonprofit corporation, not a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, as it had claimed to be, to qualify for the grant.
The aim of the state grant is to recruit sportsmen and women and teach hunting, trapping and fishing in an effort to boost outdoors activities that are important to the state economy but whose popularity has been flagging for years.
The committee voted 4-1 on Aug. 29 to recommend approval of the two-year grant.
Critics said the carefully tailored requirements of the grant assured it would be awarded to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, a group with close ties to former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, who wrote the grant into the two-year state budget.
Democrats have called the $500,000 grant a "giveaway" to United Sportsmen, whose political arm worked on behalf of Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker in recent elections.
Six Assembly Democrats on Wednesday called on the DNR to rescind the grant.
DNR spokesman Bill Cosh defended the grant award, saying the group has applied for its tax-exempt status and the IRS's processing of that takes "a little time."
The law requires the DNR to provide one grant of $500,000 over the next two years to a nonprofit organization to provide education and to recruit people to engage in hunting, fishing and trapping. It provides for $450,000 every two years thereafter.
The provision specifically excluded any local affiliate of a national organization, thus eliminating several conservation groups. United Sportsmen was the only applicant for the grant.
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