Chasing the Big Bucks

Those Backcountry Hunters and Anglers sure chase the big bucks

By Dave Skinner

Montanans can’t miss the amazing blitz of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) TV ads attacking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over the national monuments review.

Montana TV reporter Mike Dennison has revealed that BHA made a whopping $1.4 million ad buy. When asked by Dennison where BHA got so much cash, group spokesman John Gale cryptically explained that BHA lists its donors in its annual report.

Sort of – individual donors up to $20,000 are listed, and at least one is interesting from a “hunter and angler” perspective: Ed Bangs, the federal wolf reintroduction guy. Also listed are 16 foundational supporters by name only, no amount.

Sadly, reporter Dennison couldn’t bring himself to hunt down BHA’s really big bucks, so I decided to take a shot. I love hunting.

As a “grassroots” and “charitable nonprofit,” BHA (and its “nonprofit” foundation funders) must make their federal Form 990s IRS reports available to the public upon request. Further, there are websites hosting archives of nonprofit 990s, including Guidestar and the Economic Research Institute.

Unfortunately, Form 990s are not released until at least two years after the books close – meaning BHA’s report on its 2017 TV blitz (and reports from those who paid for the blitz) won’t come out until sometime in 2019.

Worse, Form 990s list donor identities on “Schedule B” – which is, you guessed it, “not open to public inspection.” Only if donors are otherwise identified is it possible to hunt down a donor’s tax return and wade down the list of recipients to see the amount donated.

So, in 2017, we’re stuck with BHA’s outdated 2015 990 report showing BHA total revenue of $1.2 million. Grassroots? Only $154,035 of BHA’s income came from “membership dues” (claiming 13,000 members, that’s $11.84 each). Fully $1.1 million came from “all other” sources, with $646,335 (about 51 percent) coming from grantors who averaged donations of over $12,650 each year.

What about BHA’s “known” donors? Consider that 2016’s donor listing might not match 2015’s – and it doesn’t. One 2015 donor ($52,800) not around in 2016 is the Wyss Foundation, controlled by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss. Greenwire reports Wyss gave BHA $300,000 in 2013, 41 percent of BHA’s funding that year.

Let’s try Montana’s Cinnabar foundation: three grand. Conservation Alliance, supposedly funded by the “outdoor industry”? Darn, they forgot their “attached schedule” of recipients.

Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund: This is an $8 billion entity that makes nearly $3 billion a year in “donor-advised” grants – they don’t list any 2015 grantees, either. Why? Too many?

Fund for a Better Future Inc: Sacramento based, the California Explore corporate registry shows an incorporation date of April 2016, so new it hasn’t yet filed its first report. But this new “Fund” has the exact same address as the Resources Legacy Fund, another BHA donor. Coincidence? The president of both groups is Michael Mantell.

Resources Legacy Fund: No 2015 record, but RLF helps “donors engage in strategic conservation endeavors,” giving $15 million in 2015 environmental grants from a tiny, secret cadre of big givers. How big? RLF’s biggest donor gave $8.775 million, one of only nine large grants totaling $31.363 million (a screaming 93 percent of its income) – all totally anonymous, tax exempt, and big buck experts! Cool!

What about the $9 billion Hewlett Foundation? Ah, here we go, two 2015 grants of $100,000 each for 2015 to BHA. And that’s probably not all, as Hewlett also transferred $1.4 million for “support of the Western Public Lands Protection Campaign” run by, um, Pew Charitable Trusts?

Pew Charitable Trusts: $39,999 in 2015 for “Policy.” Oh, you mean politics. Kendeda Fund: No 2015 donation. Funded by Home Depot founder Arthur Blank, Kendeda instead donated $250,000 to Fund for a Safer Future, a “donor collaborative” intended to “amplify” gun-control efforts in America.

Western Conservation Foundation: Denver-based and heavy on big, secret donors, known to include Hewlett, Wyss and Pew. Sixty-two percent of WCF’s money comes from donors giving at least $780,000 each over the past five years. In 2015, BHA landed $183,600 from Western – yep, those Backcountry Hunters and Anglers sure chase the big bucks.

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