ARLINGTON, Va. – Despite an outpouring of protests from the general membership that began in mid-August, directors of the National Rifle Association endorsed the controversial Conservation and Reinvestment Act, or CARA, at their annual board meeting.
The endorsement, however, which is in the form of a “statement of policy” that defines the limits to which the NRA is committed to CARA, falls far short of what promoters of the bill had hoped for.
“It wasn’t a clean kill,” said Mike Hardiman, lobbyist for the American Land Rights Association, an advocacy group based in Battleground, Wash., which has spearheaded the grass-roots opposition to CARA since its introduction in 1999. “We would have preferred a clean kill, but the NRA board has definitely put CARA in a box that’s going to be almost impossible for it to get out of. In the future, it’ll be awfully hard for NRA to lobby for it on Capitol Hill.”
Saturday’s adoption of the statement of policy was the climax of the three-day meeting at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel. It was, said Hardiman, the most contentious item on the agenda, with discussion about it lasting over an hour.
“It represents a major change from the NRA’s previous gung-ho support of CARA, which was engineered by staff without board approval,” he said.
As reported by WorldNetDaily, the NRA has been a major supporter of CARA since its introduction in February 1999 by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. Both congressmen remain CARA’s chief promoters in the House of Representatives.
CARA, which has the same bill number as it did last session, H.R. 701, would funnel $3.1 billion a year for 15 years from the revenues generated by offshore oil and mineral leases and royalties into eight trust funds – some new, some already existing – which could be tapped by federal, state and local governments and tax-exempt organizations for conservation programs and land acquisition. The appropriation from offshore revenues, a total of some $45 billion, would be automatic and with no congressional review.
According to the legislation, the money is meant to fund “the outdoor conservation and recreation needs of the American people.” Critics, however, say it spells massive land acquisitions by federal, state and local governments, with predicted restrictions on the use of land for resource development and recreational activities such as hunting and shooting.
CARA was nearly passed last November, but Congress settled for a much pared-down version, dubbed CARA-lite by some observers. Young reintroduced CARA in February; it passed the House Resources Committee in July.
An Aug. 20 e-mail alert by Jay Zane Walley, communications director for the Paragon Foundation, a land-rights advocacy group in Alamogordo, N.M., ignited a firestorm of protest against the NRA’s support of the bill. In his e-mail, Walley informed Paragon members of the gun-rights group’s position (which was without apparent approval by the board of directors) and urged that they “besiege” those in charge of the issue at its headquarters with letters and phone calls expressing their views about CARA.
Someone (not Walley) posted the alert on FreeRepublic.com, and the Internet was soon blazing with e-mails of outrage at the NRA’s position. J.J. Johnson, editor and publisher of the newssite Sierra Times, featured an interview with Walley on Aug. 24. Research analyst and columnist Diane Alden posted Walley’s alert (with commentary) on her website, the Alden Chronicles. Inboxes at the NRA headquarters near Washington, D.C., quickly filled with e-mails from angry members, lambasting the staff for its efforts on behalf of CARA.
James Jay Baker, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the organization’s lobbying wing, quickly drafted a letter of rebuttal, explaining that the NRA’s position was based solely on its support of Title III, which would provide $350 million a year additional revenue to the Pittman-Robertson fund. This is an account created by Congress in the 1930s to provide money for game nurseries, habitat restoration, state hunting education programs and land purchases for refuges. The fund is currently fed by an excise tax on guns and ammunition, with monies distributed to state fish and game departments to improve their conservation projects. Under CARA, the additional money would be dispersed, in part, through grants to organizations, including environmental groups.
“Rest assured that the NRA would never attach its name and support to a bill if its effect was to infringe upon any of our members’ constitutional rights,” Baker soothed. “Our support for CARA is tied to Title III, which is one title of 10 in the bill.”
Baker posted his letter on the NRA website and e-mailed it to members, following up with a faxing to 3.5 million people via the organization’s fax alert network.
But NRA members beyond the Beltway refused to be placated, and the blistering e-mails kept arriving at NRA headquarters. In desperation, the staff decided to make room for CARA on the agenda of the upcoming board of directors meeting. This was originally scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 14, but the kamikaze attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon caused it to be postponed.
For CARA to be on the agenda was in itself “significant,” said Hardiman. “If nothing else happens, at least we forced the staff to explain to the board of directors what’s been going on.”
But a great deal more did happen. CARA was considered so controversial that the two committees where it was to be discussed – the Wildlife Committee and Legislative Committee – were combined to consider CARA and hammer out a statement of policy for presentation to the full board. Committee discussions were conducted in closed session.
As a member of the NRA, Hardiman was allowed to attend the board meeting on Saturday, but was excluded from the committee discussions.
“The hero of the first two days was Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, no question,” said Hardiman, reporting information gathered from various sources who had attended Friday’s committee meeting. Though both Craig and Young are members of the NRA board of directors, they are on opposite sides when it comes to CARA, and each presented his views to the committee.
“Craig was great on Thursday and Friday,” Hardiman said. “Someone had to take on Don Young and his minions on the NRA staff, and it was Larry Craig. Young presented the pro-CARA argument; Craig presented the anti-CARA side. Craig tried to get some language into the statement, but some of it lost out in committee, and they came out with a pretty strong resolution of endorsement.”
In Hardiman’s view, although some of Craig’s recommendations were rejected by the joint committee and Young’s were accepted, it was still a victory.
“If Sen. Craig had not started fighting on Thursday and Friday, it would have been too late by Saturday, because the full board would have said, ‘Oh, well, no one fought it in committee,'” he said.
As it was, neither Young nor Craig showed up for the meeting Saturday of the entire board of directors.
“I guess they figured the game was over and did not anticipate the uprising from grass-roots activists around the country to the hotel,” said Hardiman.
Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights Association, was one of several people who sent out e-mail alerts urging NRA members and others to contact the board members from their own states while the board was in session. The Marriott’s switchboard was swamped with calls, and the fax machines kept running out of paper.
“It was pretty impressive,” Hardiman recalled.
Impressive, too, was the way the board in open session dealt with the committee-approved resolution. Some 45 members of the 76-member board were present, and the staff couldn’t prevent them from “slicing and dicing” the committee’s work.
Wayne Ross from Alaska praised Don Young, as “a great friend of hunters,” a man “whom I have known for five years” – then delivered a five-minute anti-CARA manifesto and was one of the leaders in cutting back the statement of policy.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and an NRA board member, claimed that nearly all conservative organizations were opposed to CARA, as were most gun-owner groups – even some NRA state affiliates.
Board member Dave Keene, chairman of American Conservative Union, worked with Ross on amendments that eliminated most of the pro-CARA language while keeping in all the qualifiers.
The final statement was approved over the objection of the NRA staff, which wanted a much broader endorsement. Here is the finished resolution:
Statement of Policy
The NRA reaffirms its endorsement of the original wildlife conservation and restoration provisions of H.R. 701, as introduced by Rep. Don Young, an NRA director, which embody the NRA’s long-standing support for more shooting ranges, more public hunting opportunities, and sound wildlife management policies which help preserve and increase wildlife.
The NRA has no way of knowing what form the CARA legislation will eventually take. We will not support any bill which does not promote greater and better hunting and shooting opportunities, which does not embrace sound principles of wildlife management, and which fails to protect adequately the constitutional rights of private property ownership.
Of specific concern, however, to the NRA is the tendency for land acquired by the federal government to be declared off-limits for hunting and shooting or its use so encumbered as to negate its suitability for such purposes. In determining the NRA’s final position on any CARA measure, its Board of Directors will be guided by its commitment to the principles of no net loss in federal land ownership open to public hunting and shooting activities. The NRA will not support, as a general principle, increased acquisitions of federal lands under CARA or any similar measure where such acquisitions do not provide increased hunting and shooting opportunities.
The board eliminated statements Young had insisted upon, which said that CARA was designed to protect property rights and prohibited condemnation “without a specific act of Congress.” This was viewed as little protection, since the bill allows condemnation by state and local governments and it would not be difficult to persuade Congress to approve condemnation by federal agencies.
Hardiman summed up the proceedings: “First, in committee, Don Young got a lot of false and misleading language included, promises that there would be no condemnation of private property; while Larry Craig got some language in at the end that the NRA will not support increased acquisition of federal land unless it provides hunting and shooting opportunities. So Larry Craig and Don Young each got their language in.
“Second, when it was brought to the full board, the board kept Larry Craig’s language that makes NRA support for CARA dependent on having hunting and shooting opportunities. Nothing more. And it struck out the part that Don Young wanted describing CARA from the point of view of the supporters.
“Third, the board changed the first sentence, the one that formally endorses specific sections of CARA. They voted on inserting the word ‘original’ in the first sentence, which further ties the staff’s hands because they cannot support any significant changes to Title III. Hardiman said.
Hardiman draws particular attention to the last two sentences of the statement, making any future support of CARA by the NRA dependent on “the principle of no net loss in federal land ownership open to public hunting and shooting opportunities.”
This “no net loss” amendment to CARA, which Craig had lobbied for, had actually been rejected by the House Resources Committee in November 1999, in part because of the efforts of Young, who chaired the committee at the time. Resource Committee records report that Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, offered an amendment to CARA, which would require that “nothing in the act be construed to result in the net loss of acreage available for hunting. The amendment failed by voice vote.”
But that’s not the full story.
“When Helen Chenoweth-Hage offered that amendment, the environmentalists went nuts, because they want to get rid of hunting,” recalled Hardiman, who was present at the hearing. “So they told Young and Tauzin to forget it – and when the amendment appeared to be defeated, Helen Chenoweth-Hage demanded a recorded vote. That would have forced Tauzin and Young to go on the record. If they voted for the amendment, then their environmentalist buddies they’d cut a deal with would be upset. If they voted no, then they’d be seen as being against hunting. Young just slammed down the gavel and said, ‘Next amendment.’ He had a straight choice between protecting hunting and stuffing Alaska with pork.”
Alaska and Louisiana would be among the main recipients of monies from CARA.
“So here comes the issue again,” laughed Hardiman. “They’re in a box. The NRA is narrowed down and can support only Title III, and they have approved a provision that Don Young and the House Resources Committee rejected. If CARA gets to the Senate floor, Larry Craig can bring this up: that CARA cannot be used to reduce hunting opportunities. So what can Don Young and Billy Tauzin do? If they vote against it they’ll be acknowledging that the bill is nothing but a big sham to get money for Louisiana and Alaska.”
NRA’s Baker, says Hardiman, will from now on have to lobby for increased hunting and shooting rights and protections – which splits NRA from the other CARA supporters, like the animal-rights groups and environmentalists.
“So the net result is that thanks to the board of directors and the membership, CARA has got a black eye. But though barely standing, it’s still there and continues to be a threat,” he said.