Predatory Nonprofit?

Fight over cougars and finances

It all seemed so easy to businessman Steven Chapman — an avid hunter, he wanted to influence the Oregon Legislature on its hunting bills. The deer and elk herds in Oregon are too small, Chapman said, and wanted to do something about it. It takes millions of dollars in California to influence legislation, according to Chapman, but only thousands in Oregon.

In only a few years, the lobbying group he helped form, Oregon Outdoor Council (OOC), shot from obscurity to a legislative force, but now Chapman finds himself pitted against fellow hunters as he alleges misspent money and ethical wrongdoings by the lobbying-oriented OOC and its non-lobbying partner, the Oregon Outdoor Council Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Chapman says he wants to expose OOC and OOCF because he feels that he created a “haphazard” group that isn’t targeting the real source of problems for the animals he hunts.

Together with Pendleton-based media-group owner Jerod Broadfoot, Wayne Endicott of Springfield’s Bow Rack and others, Chapman formed OOC with goals that included repealing Oregon’s Measure 18, which keeps hunters from chasing cougars with dogs. OOC was also behind a push on Oregon House Bill 3437, which required that gubernatorial nominees to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission have held some form of fishing or hunting licenses for 10 consecutive years. This would leave nonhunters out of wildlife decisions.

Chapman, OOC and the long-established Oregon Hunters Association (OHA) all share similar goals — to improve the herds for hunters in Oregon — but Chapman says he is no longer 100 percent certain that targeting predators and pushing bills allowing hound hunting or bear baiting are the answer. The problem lies with lands lost to grazing and roads built for logging, he says, not cougars and wolves. That’s not a popular stance to take among conservative hunting organizations that have long blamed and targeted predators.

But Chapman’s stance on what could be reducing deer and elk herds isn’t what has him at odds with the nonprofits that he was once part of. Chapman alleges that the OOC and the OOCF unethically misspent funds, misrepresented information and are not acting “in the best interests of hunting, angling or wildlife,” and he lays out a litany of problems.

Chapman says that OOC got $25,000 from the Oregon Hunters Association to conduct a poll in support of legislative initiatives and a potential constitutional amendment, and that part of the reason OOC got the money was because Broadfoot told the group and the OHA that $500,000 in donations would be coming in from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Safari Club International. That money never materialized. Chapman further alleges that Broadfoot misrepresented the results of the poll. Chapman says this damages OOC’s credibility.

Chapman, who was the OOC’s secretary-treasurer, also worries that the foundation, OOCF, jeopardized its nonprofit status when out of its $33,000 budget in 2012, it spent $16,000 on a poll relating to a prospective ballot initiative and legislative actions. The IRS limits small nonprofits to spending less than 20 percent of their budget on lobbying.

Chapman also alleges that Broadfoot diverted nonprofit funds for personal use for himself and his wife on a trip to Las Vegas where they stayed in a luxury hotel, pointing to posts on the Broadfoot Media Group website. He had an accountant review the books, and the CPA wrote that “it appears that proper expense authorization and follow up procedures are not being followed carefully, if at all” and called some of the expenditures “highly questionable.”

When asked for comment, Broadfoot referred EW to OOC’s attorney Ross Day. Day is also Chapman’s personal attorney, and when asked if that was a problem due to a conflict of interest, Day said,  “Not that I’m aware of.”

Chapman has contacted the Department of Justice over the money issue and says that in turn, OOC board members have sent a state police officer to Chapman’s doorstep.

Day says the OOC board has concluded that Chapman’s allegations are unfounded and that “We have a disagreement here, whether or not money was spent, I don’t want to say wisely, but as efficiently as possible. It doesn’t mean anything untoward has occurred.”

But in a July 2012 email to the OOC board, Day wrote “when OOC pays for a trip to attend a conference, speaking engagement, whatever, the person can only be there on OOC business, not promoting any other organization/business/cause or otherwise. When money from a c(4) is spent, it can only be spent on purposes related to the c(4). If someone goes to a conference, for instance, on OOC’s dime, and then promotes another organization (say, Oregonians In Action), there could be problems down the road with the IRS (which I, as OOC’s lawyer, am responsible for avoiding).”

Later in August, Day wrote, “It is my job to advise OOC on how to avoid enforcement actions by agencies like the IRS and the Oregon DOJ. The easiest and surest way to avoid enforcement actions is by making sure your books are clean to begin with; that way you do not have to agree to ‘follow the law’ if and when the government comes knocking at your door.”

The July email from Day also detailed a report from former Republican state senator-turned NRA lobbyist Roger Beyer, who had been asked to join the OOC board but declined. Beyer discussed a “breakdown” in the relationship between OOC and OHA, citing among other things the claims of funding that didn’t materialize and that the OHA was given only abstract data from the poll and not the actual poll results. Broadfoot had sent an email to the OOC board saying, “Do not share. We need to discuss this tonight. Numbers are not good overall but it does provide us with good information to move forward with.”

Day says, “Taken out of context I know what that email looks like,” but says OOC was under no obligation to release the results of the poll. Duane Dungannon of the OHA says that there were “differences of opinions about the results that were obtained” but that OHA thought it made sense that the poll results would be held close and not sent out to wind up in the hands of opponents or on websites.

But in the end, whether OOC survives and whether it works with OHA on future hunting legislation or not, Chapman says he feels culpable for having created an organization that by targeting predators and not the true culprits — grazing and road building — is doing a disservice to the hunting community.

Web Extra

Bob Ferris of Cascadia Wildlands provides more background on the issue here.

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