‘Nonpartisan’ gun rights group boosted by Democratic-aligned America Votes

Bull Moose Sportsmen met with Obama, Biden this year

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Amid Capitol Hill’s gun control debates this year, the Denver-based Bull Moose Sportsmen ranked among the few advocacy groups to chart a centrist course when working with lawmakers and the White House to craft firearm laws.

Its funding, however, is anything but middle of the road.

The Democratic-aligned nonprofit America Votes provided the self-described “nonpartisan” Bull Moose Sportsmen with the overwhelming majority of its funding in 2012, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents recently filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

In all, contributions from America Votes represent at least 95 percent of the $963,000 raised by the Bull Moose Sportsmen from its launch in 2010 through the end 2012, IRS records show.

Washington, D.C.-based America Votes — which has spent millions of dollars promoting Democrats and attempting to defeat Republicans such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — was created in 2004 by a group of liberal political operatives.

Among them: EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm, former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope and Harold Ickes, a longtime adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In explaining America Votes' support for Bull Moose Sportsman, spokesman John Neurohr said the gun group brings "an expertise on issues of growing importance” to the America Votes coalition, which “benefits everyone at the table.”

The Bull Moose Sportsmen was established by Gaspar Perricone and Tim Mauck, both former staffers of Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, now the state’s senior U.S. senator.

It touts a membership of 5,000 hunters, anglers and trappers, and its name is a nod to Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, whose passion for hunting fueled an interest in conservation.

In January, Perricone served as a member of the gun safety roundtable that Vice President Joe Biden convened in Washington, D.C. He also met with President Barack Obama in April to discuss the White House’s gun control push following the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Perricone said his presence at the meetings gave the hunter and angler community “a seat at the table” in the national gun conversation.

“We’re historically a group that gets overlooked in the gun debate,” Perricone said.

Ultimately, the Bull Moose Sportsmen supported a Senate provision to expand background checks on all firearm purchases, but it opposed a semi-automatic weapon ban, which was backed by Obama and a number of other liberal Democrats.

The group also came out against a national registry of gun owners. This policy was never formally proposed, but some gun advocates on the right argued expanding background checks would lead to a federal registry.

The background check measure — crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. — failed to overcome a GOP-led filibuster in April, when 54 senators voted to advance the bill, six shy of the 60 needed.

More recently, Perricone has touted the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s role in helping to craft new legislation introduced by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., known as the Sportsmen’s and Public Outdoor Recreation Traditions Act. Additionally, the group has been pushing for the passage of a farm bill with “strong conservation programs.”

Beyond the policy-making process, the Bull Moose Sportsmen has also been active in the electoral arena.

The outfit spent $117,540 on mailers and radio advertisements in support of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in 2010, federal records show.

And in 2012, the Bull Moose Sportsmen spent $17,000 on mailers backing then-Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who won a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Additionally, the organization endorsed Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Montana Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock during the 2012 election. All won their respective races.

Perricone declined to identify any candidates the group may support in 2014.

For its part, America Votes contributed $417,500 Bull Moose Sportsmen sometime between July 2011 and June 2012, IRS records show. That payment came on top of the $495,000 America Votes contributed to the Bull Moose Sportsmen during its previous fiscal year.

Perricone told the Center for Public Integrity that wildlife conservation motivated its desire to join forces with America Votes.

“We’re a unique member [of the American Votes coalition] because our members are both Democrats and Republicans, and our issues are driven by the hunting and angling community, not partisan politics,” Perricone said.

Sportsmen really “sit on this political fence,” added co-founder Mauck. “Our sport depends very heavily on the right to use firearms.”

“We work well with Democrats on conservation, and we work well with Republicans on the right to bear arms,” Mauck continued.

The investment from America Votes ranked as one of the largest grants that group made during its 2011-2012 fiscal year, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.

Neurohr, the America Votes spokesman, declined to say whether additional funds have been awarded since.

Both America Votes and the Bull Moose Sportsmen are organized under Sec. 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code as nonprofits designed to “promote social welfare."

Such nonprofits are not required to publicly disclose the names of their donors, but they must reveal how much money they raise each year and how funds are spent, including grants and contributions made to other nonprofits.

America Votes’ liberal credentials are numerous.

In 2011 and 2012, it pumped nearly $1 million into groups supporting recall efforts against Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, and other Republican lawmakers.

More recently, the group turned its sights on Colorado, where it backed the two Democratic lawmakers who faced recalls in September over their support of gun control legislation. Both were defeated.

The Bull Moose Sportsmen itself wasn’t involved in the state’s recall fight.