Illinois hunters.
Photo courtesy IDNR.

(This article was originally published in the December 2010 issue of GunNews by remains as true and accurate today as it was then as nothing has changed with regard to Illinois government misappropriating Pittman-Robertson monies.)


by Lee Williams
Springfield, IL (Illinois Policy Institute) — The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is misappropriating millions of dollars that should have been earmarked for the state’s sportsmen.

The Pittman-Robertson Act, an 11-percent federal tax on guns, ammunition, and fishing and archery equipment is about the only tax most sportsmen don’t mind paying, unless the funds are misused.

The funds collected annually by the Act are supposed to be returned to the states to increase fish and game populations, construct public shooting ranges, improve public hunting lands, and teach firearms safety to future hunters and shooters.

Since it was first signed in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Pittman-Robertson Act has saved elk herds, boosted white-tailed deer populations and re-introduced pheasants, wild turkeys and other animals to states that had dwindling populations, in addition to teaching basic firearms fundamentals to millions of people.

When there was talk of ending the Act, sportsmen argued against the move. Most considered it an excise tax—a user fee for outdoor sports—and supported keeping it in place, as long as the funds were disbursed by their state’s department of natural resources in a common-sense manner, in keeping with what the drafters of the legislation had in mind: public shooting ranges, public hunting lands, and fish and game conservation.

In Illinois, however, that hasn’t been the case.

Rather than using the money as intended, an investigation by the Illinois Policy Institute has revealed that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is pumping the state’s Pittman-Robertson Act funds into two state universities at Champaign and Carbondale.

Some of the university studies funded by sportsmen’s dollars, most of which fall far short of the intent of the legislation, include: developing information about the foraging and nesting behavior of mute swans, developing “practical and efficient” methods to count ground squirrels, and using radar to monitor waterfowl migration.

More troublesome, however, is that the IDNR is also using Pittman-Robertson money to maintain websites, convert paper and micro-fiche documents into CDs, and conduct public opinion polling about their policies and regulations.

Stacy Lischka is a “human dimensions program specialist” working for the University of Illinois in Champaign, although she lives in Canada.

More troublesome, however, is that the IDNR is also using Pittman-Robertson money to maintain websites, convert paper and micro-fiche documents into CDs, and conduct public opinion polling about their policies and regulations.

Stacy Lischka is a “human dimensions program specialist” working for the University of Illinois in Champaign, although she lives in Canada.

According to the documents obtained by the Institute, Lischka, who is listed as “principal investigator” on two contracts, received more than $750,000 “to determine attitudes of hunters, trappers and other stakeholders likely to affect wildlife population.”

We try to learn how sportsmen feel about potential changes to regulations or access programs, and programs the DNR is thinking about doing,” she told the Illinois Policy Institute. “Generally, we try to track people’s opinions and satisfaction with regulations, and with potential changes to the regulations.”

Asked why she needed more than $750,000 for the study, Lischka said most went for postage.

Mailing costs are expensive,” she said. “The dollars and cents of it come down to doing the survey and receiving it back.”

The Illinois Policy Institute filed a request under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, requesting copies of all contracts involving Pittman-Roberson Act funds dispersed over the past five years.

The IDNR did not comply with this request. Instead, they provided a partial list of contract numbers. The Institute made a subsequent FOIA request to the Illinois Comptroller’s Office, for all the contracts. The Comptroller’s Office provided what they had, 21 contracts, many covering multiple years, ranging from 2008 to 2011.

According to an audit conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General, published July 2010, the IDNR received 73 grants totaling $38.9 million in Pittman-Robertson Act funds from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2009.

The amount of federal money listed in the contracts obtained by the Institute through FOIA does not come close to totaling $38.9 million. Therefore, the whereabouts of much of the state’s Pittman-Robertson Act funds remains unknown.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller refused to comment for this story. Governor Pat Quinn appointed Miller as director in 2009. Prior to his appointment, Miller served as Quinn’s senior policy advisor.

Quinn likewise refused to comment for this story.

Local reaction
Word the IDNR was violating the spirit, if not the letter of the Pittman-Robertson Act comes as no surprise to Illinois sportsmen, who have long wondered and even filed suit to find out where their money was going.

The crime for me is that they’ve done this for years,” said Dr. David Pike, immediate-past president of the Champaign County Rifle Association. “This is not something recent, just happening now. They have a history of this. Those with oversight of these funds have been irresponsible.”

Other groups have noticed the missing funds.

Richard Pearson is executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA), the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.

Pearson said the ISRA filed suit in the late 1980s to see how the funds were being spent, until a judge decided they lacked standing and dismissed the case.

We couldn’t figure out what was happening to our money,” Pearson said. “I think the government owes sportsmen of this state a couple million dollars.”

Pearson believes the funds were used for other, non-sanctioned purposes.

Using the funds to pay for research of non-game animals, he and other said, violates the Act.

The money comes from people buying ammunition, much of which is hunting ammo. That was the purpose of the Pittman-Robertson Act—game animals,” he said. “They closed the Green River Hunting area under the Blagojevich administration because they were releasing pheasants, which Blagojevich said were not part of the Act. Well, neither is studying some worm somewhere.”

Jerry Martoglio is president of the Illinois BASS Federation, which is comprised of 52 bass-fishing clubs scattered throughout the state.

Martoglio said that while he and his members have positive working relationships with local IDNR staff, the agency’s senior officials remain ignorant of their needs.

These strange studies—I’m not in favor of that at all,” Martoglio said. “In a perfect world, they should be looking at what the people of the State of Illinois really desire to see in way of studies of animals: deer, wild turkey, and those kinds of things. Studying the midnight reaction of a mole as it burrows through my yard is not relevant. They need to direct their attention to what the bulk of the populace wants.”

The Illinois BASS Federation, Martoglio said, stocks local waters with small-mouth bass purchased with club funds.

If there’s any federal money given to the DNR, we haven’t seen it,” he said.

National reaction
Aaron Zelman is executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, which describes itself as the country’s “most aggressive” defender of firearms ownership.

Anyone who’s a hunter who doesn’t get incensed about this is either brain-dead or not thinking,” Zelman said.

The National Rifle Association believes vigilance is required.

Sportsmen and women have funded conservation for generations through the Pittman-Robertson Act. This legislation has allowed numerous species to flourish, while providing protection for wild lands,” said Lacey Biles, hunting policy liaison for the NRA. “As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Act that has yielded large successes, much work remains to be done if we are to preserve America’s rich hunting heritage.”

Larry Pratt is executive director of Gun Owners of America.

He too questioned where the IDNR funneled Illinois sportsmen’s funds.

These university people are probably more allied with PETA than with hunters,” he said. “This is money pulled out of our pockets by the feds. This is one more illustration of government out of control. They’ve forgotten who they work for. They do anything they want. This illustrates it. This is illustration number 1,001.”

Pike believes the IDNR needs more transparency and accountability in the ways the agency disburses monies collected from the state’s sportsmen.

He and others have said the IDNR should place every contract funded by the Act on their Web site, for the public to scrutinize.

In addition, legislation is needed to create a commission that could oversee and direct how the money is spent.

The majority of the people involved should be gun owners and sportsmen, not government employees,” Pike said. “Why run this from the top down. It really should come from the bottom up. There are a number of organizations in this state that could send staff.”

Martoglio would support a commission, but questions whether it would be effective.

The problem in Illinois has always been that no commission or committee has been able to control the political footballs in this state,” he said. “The appointees may all be great guys, but they’re usually whoever rubs the governor’s back the hardest before the election.”

Lee Williams is the investigative reporter at the Illinois Policy Institute and writer for the Last Honest Man blog at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Follow up to “Where’s our money?”
State Police say “we don’t have it”

(Illinois Policy Institute) – …The Illinois Policy Institute made a request to the Illinois State Police pursuant to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for “any document showing the amount of Pittman-Robertson Act funds used for the construction of any state police firearms range.”

In his response received Thursday, Trooper Kerry Sutton, the agency’s FOIA officer, wrote: “The Illinois State Police is unable to provide any records responsive to your request. The Illinois State Police is not aware of any range project funded by the Pittman-Robertson Act.”

Anyone with any information to the contrary, or anyone who may know where the missing Pittman-Robertson Act funds were spent, is invited to call the Last Honest Man tip line: 1-888-666-8809.