Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Despite being called “Republican-leaning,” TRCP’s origins are left-wing
At a Glance
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership bills its mission as “guaranteeing you a place to hunt and fish.” Described in the press as “Republican-leaning,” in reality TRCP seems to be little more than a camouflaged advocacy front for an alliance of environmental and left-wing interests. In 2012, 75% of TCRP donations came from a mere 8 donors.
Additionally, despite being billed as a centrist to center-right organization of pro-gun, conservation-minded hunters and anglers, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) has deep ties to one of the most liberal and Democratic constituency groups in the country: Big Labor. This labor-green alliance goes back toward the beginning of TRCP’s history, and has filled the coffers of TRCP and its “Union Sportsmen’s Alliance” spin-off group with millions of dollars.
TRCP is a spin-off of a Trout Unlimited project. In 2000, Trout Unlimited became a “fiscal sponsor” of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, which was a partnership of six groups including the Izaak Walton League of America and Trout Unlimited, two “green decoy” organizations. The left-wing Pew Charitable Trusts created TRCA, and Pew sent over $2 million to Trout Unlimited earmarked for the Alliance.
TRCA later applied for its own tax-exempt status under the name Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Project and became the separate organization that it is now.
Much about TRCP’s liberal roots remains the same today. TRCP’s partners include labor union groups such as the AFL-CIO, environmentalists, and other environmentalist front groups like Trout Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League of America, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. TRCP helps lead an alliance called “Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development” with Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation.
Ties to Big Labor
The alliance between TRCP and the member unions of the AFL-CIO dates back to at least 2004, when Edward C. Sullivan, then-President of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, was added to the TRCP board. In 2005, unions began pouring funds into TRCP’s coffers.
In the mid-2000s, Big Labor and TRCP formed the “Union Sportsmen’s Alliance,” formerly part of TRCP but now an independent 501(c)(3) group. A Washington Post report on its establishment said the group was designed to “lure the political allegiance of gun-owning union members away from the NRA and its political agenda.”
Around 2010, TRCP spun Union Sportsmen’s Alliance off, allowing former TRCP Vice President Fred Myers—who had been promoted to executive director of the then-in-house Union Sportsmen’s Alliance—to leave the organization to continue as the group’s executive director, a position he still holds. The unions that had funded TRCP to the tune of over $1 million per year from 2007-2009 mostly shifted their financial support to the newly “independent” Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. However, AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka, who heads the largest union federation in the country, received a seat on TRCP’s board.
Myers wasn’t the only TRCP staffer to make the move to Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. Nathan Whiteman, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Director of Events, also made the move from TRCP, where he had been director of recruiting.
Possibly in exchange for TRCP assistance in organizing Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, the AFL-CIO has representation on TRCP’s board of directors and policy council. Richard Trumka, president of the labor federation, is a TRCP director. An AFL-CIO lobbyist, Thomas Trotter, sits on TRCP’s Policy Council. Prior to moving to the AFL-CIO, Trotter was a registered lobbyist for TRCP, lobbying on issues including “climate change legislation” and the 2009 fiscal “stimulus.” Prior to working for TRCP, Trotter had lobbied for the International Association of Machinists, another major union.
Trout Unlimited, as a “fiscal sponsor” of the TRCP precursor Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, funneled more than $2 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the alliance. After TCRP received its own tax-exempt status in 2003, it found plenty of other environmentalist organizations to provide cash.
Far from a group relying on grassroots funding, TRCP relies on a handful of sugar daddies for financial backing. In 2010, a whopping 84% of TRCP donations came from only 10 donors. In 2011, TRCP received $2.3 million in grants from foundations—or nearly two-thirds of its income. And in 2012, 75% of TCRP donations came from a mere 8 donors.
In total, labor unions have provided $5.1 million to TRCP proper since 2004, according to union disclosures to the U.S. Department of Labor. Unions have additionally funded Union Sportsmen’s Alliance to the tune of $6 million, for a total of $11 million from big labor to the “Green Decoy” group’s coffers.
Labor unions themselves are not the only source of labor-aligned funding to the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance/TRCP nexus. According to disclosures filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance has received funding from union-aligned financial corporations Brotherhood Bank and Trust and ULLICO (Union Labor Life Insurance Company). In Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s 2013 tax year, these two organizations provided “sponsorships” to Union Sportsmen’s Alliance worth $290,000 according to Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s Form 990 tax return. (Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is obligated to report these transactions because these firms and Union Sportsmen’s Alliance share directors.)
TRCP has received 116 grants totaling $13 million since 2002. Major funders include the Turner Foundation ($2.3 million), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation ($835,000), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($1.11 million), Pew Charitable Trusts ($1.55 million), and the Hewlett Foundation ($3.6 million). Other funders include the Joyce Foundation, McIntosh Foundation, the Thomas and Stacy Siebel Foundation, and the Knoblach Family Foundation.
There’s little doubt that the foundations veer strongly to the left, such as the Hewlett Foundation (gives millions to abortion provider Planned Parenthood), Joyce Foundation (gives millions to the anti-gun Violence Policy Center), and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (gives millions to the pro-abortion NARAL).
TRCP claims to be primarily about benefiting hunters and other sportsmen, and the group’s press releases beat that drum incessantly, invoking the word “sportsmen” ad nauseam. But TRCP really places radical, anti-industry environmentalism as its top agenda item.
Initially, grants were made to TRCP’s predecessor under descriptions such as “general support to engage hunters and anglers in activities that protect fish and wildlife in the National forest.” More recent grants display a more obviously environmentalist bent. Consider the following descriptions offered by granting foundations:
- For TRCP’s “Energy Initiative Program” ($1,000,000, Hewlett Foundation, 2013)
- For TRCP’s “Energy Initiative Program” ($912,500, Hewlett Foundation, 2011)
- “Sportsmen for the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay.” ($40,000, Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, 2011)
- “For the sportsmen for responsible energy development project.” ($200,000, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, 2010)
- “To engage hunters and fishers to advocate for federal conservation polices to improve water quality.” ($75,000, McKnight Foundation, 2010)
- “Climate.” ($175,000, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, 2010)
- “Climate and Agriculture” ($100,000, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, 2008)
- “Transportation Communications Campaign” ($50,000, Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, 2008)
- “To support the growing conservation campaign and the wetlands bill of rights campaign” ($100,000, McKnight Foundation, 2007)
- “Engage America’s 40 million sportsmen and sportswomen and make possible their active participation in the national conservation policy arena” ($10,000, Surnda Foundation, 2006)
On the Sideline for the Second Amendment
TRCP claims to support the right to hunt and fish, and so it should be a vocal proponent of gun rights. But when pressed, TRCP couldn’t offer a stance. “[O]thers know far more than we do about the Second Amendment,” TRCP stated. Bizarrely, WyoFile reports that Whit Forsburgh, head of TRCP, “doesn’t view President Obama as a threat to gun rights.” TRCP’s non-stance is even stranger given that a portion of every sale of firearms and ammunition is earmarked for conservation programs.
Union Sportsmen’s Alliance
TRCP is also behind the formation of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA). A joint effort with 20 labor unions, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s goal is “to lure the political allegiance of gun-owning union members away from the NRA and its political agenda”—and presumably toward that of liberal-backing labor groups. “[A]bout a quarter of union members said they belonged to the National Rifle Association, an affiliation that displeases some Democratic union leaders,” The Washington Post reported. The effort came with $1.2 million in seed money from labor to TRCP. The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance claims to be in favor of the Second Amendment, yet TRCP has received $150,000 from the anti-gun Joyce Foundation. Barack Obama was a board member of the Joyce Foundation between 1994 and 2002.
Regardless of Alliance’s post-2010 formal legal independence, TRCP and Union Sportsmen’s Alliance remain joined at the hip. TRCP’s president, Whit Fosburgh, sits on Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s board of directors—he is the only person on the 13-member board of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance who is not a national union official, according to the organization’s website.
Former TRCP board chairman Katie Distler Eckman (2011-13) is the former executive director of the Turner Foundation, founded by environmentalist Ted Turner.
TRCP president and CEO Whit Fosburgh worked at Trout Unlimited for 15 years, a group that like TRCP receives millions from environmentalist interests. Before that, Fosburgh worked for left-wing U.S. Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD).