Sportsmen raised nearly $2 million to win 2004 bear referendum

A total of $1,727,751.25 was raised in 2004 to successfully defend Maine’s bear hunt against a ballot measure initiated by the Humane Society of the United States. As the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, with a ton of help and generosity of many supporters inside and outside of our state, I raised the money. The campaign’s steering committee, comprised of leaders from SAM, the Maine Professional Guides Association, and the Maine Trappers Association,  hired my sister, Edie Smith, to manage the campaign.

We trailed badly from the get-go, and were fortunate to squeak out a 53 to 47 percent victory. Honestly, we had to do everything right. And we did.

HSUS is back for another round, currently circulating petitions for a 2014 referendum on the same issues of bear trapping and bear hunting with hounds and bait. If this initiative gets on the ballot, we’ll encounter a divisive, ugly, and expensive campaign. Very expensive. Certainly more expensive than the 2004 campaign.

With this column, I begin a series on the 2004 campaign, to remind sportsmen of what it took to win and how we did it, and to help those who have stepped up to lead the 2014 campaign to defeat HSUS’s initiative.

We’ll begin with fundraising. Many Mainers sacrificed financially for the 2004 campaign, and we were also blessed with a lot of help from around the country.

Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, organized by sportsmen to conduct their campaign, raised $1,441,525.51, and also received $181,140.29 of in-kind contributions (campaign tasks performed by others). SAM’s political action committee, SAM PAC, raised $105,085.45 for the bear campaign.

Sixty five percent of all the money was raised in Maine, and 35 percent came from our friends around the country. I traveled outside Maine quite a bit that year, raising that money, including a very generous donation of $10,000 from Safari Club International’s Michigan chapter. I remember fondly a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to speak at the annual convention of the Michigan Bear Hunters Association – attended by an astonishing 1,500 hunters.

And my several trips to Vermont, where Clint and Mary Gray and the Vermont Bear Hound Association were extremely generous and helpful, will also never be forgotten.

How did we raise all that money? $191,003 came from a Super Raffle. Katahdin Cedar Log Homes donated the top prize, a $28,000 log home. Other prizes included a 5-day African safari for 4, donated by Numzaan Safaris, a Polar Kat Fisherman V144 SC Boat with a 25-horse Mercury motor and trailer, donated by State Line Auto, RV, and Marine, and a Polaris Trail Blazer 250 ATV donated by Friend and Friend of Ellsworth.

We filled the Augusta Civic Center one night for the most amazing banquet I’ve ever attended, raising $176,274.75. It was a privilege to speak to that crowd, although I did have something else on my mind. Just days before the banquet, I was in the cardiac unit at the Augusta hospital where a clogged artery was discovered in my chest – and I was scheduled to have a stent placed in that artery five days after the banquet. And yes, I told my cardiologist that the stent would have to wait because I could not miss that banquet!

The Maine Professional Guides Association raised $164,360. The Maine Trappers Association raised $77,996.18. Sporting clubs donated $109,102.25, led by the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club with its generous contribution of $26,220. The U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance, our key national ally along with Safari Club International, donated $90,000. SCI donated $37,281. Nearly $100,000 was donated by individuals, responding to direct mail and other appeals.

Members of Maine’s business, forest, and landowner communities also stepped up. Lead contributors were Plum Creek $30,000, North Maine Woods $25,000, Irving $25,000, Seven Islands Land Management Company $20,000, and Brennan Campers $5,788.

Our campaign attracted 17,461 donors, 63 percent from inside the state and 37 percent outside.

Well, how about the fundraising of our opponents, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting? This group raised $960,965.32 and received additional in-kind donations (from HSUS consultants) of $64,308.69.

Ninety three percent of that money came from out of state, and just 7 percent from within Maine. You can expect the same in the new campaign.

In the next column in this series on the 2004 bear referendum, I’ll tell you how we spent our money, and still later, how we won and what lessons we learned.

For now, I can tell you this. HSUS has announced it will spend at least $3 million this time, a serious challenge to Maine sportsmen that, should we fail to match that spending, could signal defeat. Let’s hope that all of the key groups and allies who contributed to the 2004 campaign are willing and able to do so again, and that additional donors can be identified to give us a chance to win in 2014.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.