Political group Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting has filed an appeal to the Maine Law Court after the group’s lawsuit against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was dismissed by a Maine Superior Court justice last month.
The lawsuit, filed last year, attempted to stop the MDIF&W from spending taxpayer dollars to oppose the referendum that sought to ban bear baiting and other practices. Maine Superior Court Justice Wheeler dismissed the lawsuit on March 31, finding the issue was moot since the election was over, according to a previous BDN story.
Voters on Nov. 4 rejected a citizen-initiated referendum to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping, by a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent.
The judge said the plaintiffs, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, which received funding from the Humane Society of the U.S., should have filed their lawsuit earlier than late September.
“We’re pursuing the appeal because we believe DIF&W’s use of public funds on campaign activities is illegal and was wrongfully decided in lower court,” said Katie Hansberry, campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting and Maine Director for the Humane Society of the U.S. “The issue isn’t moot because bear management is an ongoing issue, and the ability of a state agency to be involved in political actions is a very important issue of law that needs to be addressed.”
The lawsuit sought to force DIF&W to immediately comply with previous Maine Freedom of Access Act requests as well as prohibit the department from any further campaigning against Question 1. It also asked that the court require the department to remove all political content from its website, repay any funds to the state that were used in campaign activities and remove the television ads from the air.
“It is no surprise that the Humane Society of the United States, under the guise of ‘Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting’ has filed this appeal,” said James Cote, campaign manager for the anti-referendum group Maine Wildlife Conservation Council, in a prepared statement.
“I think Maine people are getting tired of these acts of desperation and frivolous attempts to smear the reputation of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,” said Cote. “Fighting these issues again and again is absurd. We will continue our efforts to defend the voice of Maine’s wildlife experts, and Maine’s outdoor hunting heritage.”
Five weeks after the election, it was determined that DIF&W spent at least $31,000 on campaign materials, television ads, debate coaching and staff time to fight Question 1, according to a previously published report. The spending was detailed in internal agency documents and invoices released to the Bangor Daily News under the Maine Freedom of Access Act.
“This is an important area of law,” Hansberry said, “because it sets a dangerous and undemocratic precedent for the entire state by opening a door to unchecked government spending on political activities, and we maintain that the government shouldn’t be in the business of using taxpayer money or other resources to tell Mainers how to vote.”