MADISON (AP) - A Department of Natural Resources committee has recommended awarding a $500,000 state grant to a politically connected sportsmen's group despite questions about whether it's qualified to do the work.
The committee voted 4-1 Thursday to give the grant to promote hunting and fishing to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation. The group has ties to allies of former Republican Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, including donors, lobbyists and Suder's former chief of staff.
Mark LaBarbera cast the lone "no" vote from the Sporting Heritage Grant Committee.
"I felt that it didn't pass the smell test," he told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Tim Andryk, the DNR's chief legal counsel, said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp has no choice but to give the group the grant because a provision in the state budget requires her to issue it by Tuesday. The sportsmen's foundation was the only one to apply.
United Sportsmen president Andy Pantzlaff told committee members that board members had taught hunting and shooting courses, but he acknowledged the organization had not run any programs itself.
Scott Gunderson, DNR's executive assistant and a committee member, said the agency's staff determined the group fit the criteria for the grant.
After the vote, Stepp issued a statement acknowledging questions about the group and saying she would ensure it did the work.
"I will be inserting clear and specific language within the grant contract to ensure that desired outcomes are met in an efficient and transparent manner with ample opportunity for public scrutiny," she said. "We will work to incorporate many of the concerns and ideas we heard during today's hearing into the grant contract."
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