August 22, 2019

Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting Fails to Convince Supreme Court to Hear Case…BUT…

According an article I just read from George Smith of the Bangor Daily News, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the front name for the Humane Society of the United States, failed to convince members of the Maine Supreme Court to hear their case against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) for alleged violations when MDIFW campaigned against a Humane Society of the United State’s ballot initiative to end bear hunting.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, this effort was geared toward convincing the Court to hear an appeal. According to Smith, that convincing didn’t go so well but the Court did not issue a decision.

Smith brings up an interesting point that may need a closer look at. In writing about the focus of the HSUS’ case, Smith quotes the attorney for HSUS as saying, “We are challenging their use of taxpayer money to campaign against the initiative, not their right to speak on the issue.”

Smith provides his own commentary: “At that point I wanted to jump up and shout, DIF&W did not spend taxpayer dollars. They get no taxpayer dollars! Sportsmen pay all the bills at that state agency, although we have tried, for decades, to win General Fund tax dollars for DIF&W, without success.”

The Supreme Court evidently did not offer any information directly to the core of the appeal as to whether or not MDIFW could use taxpayer money to campaign against a citizen’s initiative. All the Court basically said was that because the referendum has been voted on, the case is moot – which is exactly as the Lower Court ruled.

Smith further explains: “I took great interest in a part of the discussion that focused on whether or not DIF&W and other state agencies should be able to testify at the legislature for or against bills. That is a great analogy really. One Justice noted that, “The citizen initiative process is exactly like the legislative process, it just puts the issue in front of the people.” That Justice asked Wertheimer, “Isn’t the proper place for your argument the legislature?”

It appears however that this matter may not be that cut and dry. I recall in the debates that have taken place earlier about HSUS trying to censor MDIFW, that Maine has certain “ethics” when it comes to “using taxpayer money” by a department in providing testimony. The question seems to be whether or not Maine law prohibits any member of a state agency to actively campaign for or against a citizen-brought referendum, and whether it is prohibited as such because it is improper use of taxpayer’s money?

Perhaps this question will be decided at a later time. One Maine Supreme Court justice asked if the answer to such a question should be sought in the Maine Legislature.

And what if it is? What will happen? Will the Legislature or the Courts try to tell members of a department, funded by voluntary payments for licenses and registrations that they are prohibited to speak out on issues?

Perhaps a bit unknowingly, Smith, a proponent and activist for funding the MDIFW with General Fund money, provided good evidence as to why such an effort might not be so good. If it is deemed “unethical,” either through existing statutes or future statutes, that public taxpayer money cannot be used to campaign for or against any initiative, then how would such a law effect the MDIFW where none of it’s money comes from General Fund taxes? Funding is provided by voluntary fee payments for licenses and registrations. Probably it is a good thing MDIFW isn’t funded by general tax dollars.

People shouldn’t forget that these political doorways swing in more than one direction. Anytime laws are written to restrict one’s freedom of speech or create more regulations that stifle progress, generally don’t do anybody any good. What seemed to work out good for the bear hunters this time, might bite them in the hind end the next.

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