Maine sportsmen get late start for their bear campaign

When sportsmen previously faced the challenge of defending bear hunting and trapping, their campaign got underway almost two years before Maine voters made their decision on the referendum measure in November of 2004.

Planning for the campaign began in January of 2003 and by July of that year we had our comprehensive poll in hand, identifying the key voting blocks, most effective messages, and much more. We had the best pollster and political strategist in the state, Dr. Christian Potholm, and a campaign plan that might – if we did everything right – lead to the defeat of the proposal initiated by the powerful national group, the Humane Society of the United States.

This is the second column in a series on the 2004 campaign, to remind sportsmen of what it took to win and how we did it, and to help those who have stepped up to lead the 2014 campaign to defeat HSUS’s initiative.

Today we’ll look at organization and spending. My sister Edie Smith and I divided up the campaign tasks for the 2004 referendum. Edie managed the campaign and I raised the money. We had a strong campaign team, led by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (where I served as executive director) and the Maine Professional Guides Association. We also had fantastic support from national hunting groups whose money and advice was critical to our success.

The sportsmen’s campaign this time is starting late. Just last month, James Cote was hired to manage the campaign, a very good choice. But James is currently expected to handle both the fundraising and the management of the campaign – far too much to expect for a single individual, no matter how capable he is.

I have shared with James everything in my 2004 bear campaign file, including our polls. I expect the path to victory to be more difficult and costly this time. So let’s look at how we spent our money last time.

We spent $182,000 on management and consultants, $13,000 on merchandise including bumper stickers, tee shirts, hats, and prints, and $21,000 on legal representation and an economic impact study.

$88,000 was spent on educational and fundraising direct mail pieces, the principle way we attracted over 17,500 donors and grassroots supporters. Event expenses – mostly for an amazing banquet that filled the Augusta Civic Center – totaled $54,000.

We spent $7,500 lobbying at the legislature, opposing HSUS’s attempt to enact its proposal without going to a referendum, and testifying and working against the initiative as it made its way from HSUS to the Secretary of State to the legislature to the ballot.

$82,000 was spent over the two year period on polling, including our tracking polls that helped refine our messages and track our progress, including the effectiveness of our TV ads, over the final two months of the campaign.

$60,000 was spent on postage for thank you notes, shipping merchandise, and direct mail appeals. Another $17,000 was spent on a variety of small expenses, from telephone to travel. Almost all of my time, work, and travel for the campaign was paid by SAM, as an in-kind expenditure. SAM’s in-kind expenditures, aside from all the money SAM members donated to the campaign, totaled $105,000.

This year’s campaign will very much need that same commitment of time, energy, and expertise, from the state’s leading sportsman’s group, now led by former State Senator David Trahan.

Finally, and most importantly, we spent $1,016,000 on media. $842,970 of that went to pay for placement of TV and radio ads. In all, we spent 66 percent of our money on media, including production.

Add it all up and we spent about $1.5 million. This does not include in-kind expenditures by SAM and others.

Our opponents, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting, a front group for HSUS, raised $960,965 with an additional $64,000 of in-kind contributions. 93% of their money came from out of state. They had about 400 donors. They spent almost all of their money on ugly TV ads, dumping $600,000 late in the campaign into those ads. Thankfully, it was too little too late.

HSUS learned a lot in 2004 and has announced its intention to spend $3 million on their Maine campaign in 2014. That’s a mighty big challenge for Maine sportsmen. They’ll need a campaign plan, comprehensive poll, significant amount of money, and lots of volunteers by the end of this year, if they’re going to catch up to our 2004 campaign. Let’s hope they are up to it.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.