Newly released records show that then-Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder accepted an invitation for a fishing trip offered by the lobbyist for a self-described sportsmen group just days before an affiliate of the organization won a $500,000 state grant.
Suder told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a story published Monday that he paid for his own way for the outing in August with the head of United Sportsmen of Wisconsin.
The trip came about 2½ months after the Republican lawmaker engineered money for the grant into the state budget. Suder worked with other Republican lawmakers creating a grant so narrowly tailored that the United Sportsmen Foundation was all but assured of receiving it.
The trip came two days after Suder announced he was resigning from the Legislature to take a $94,000-a-year job in Gov. Scott Walker's administration at the Public Service Commission. Suder, of Abbotsford, begins that job next week.
Walker rescinded the grant to United Sportsmen after reports that the group misrepresented its nonprofit status and that its president had been cited in 2005 for shooting a trophy black bear without the proper license.
United Sportsmen's executive director and lobbyist Scott Meyer offered the two-day Lake Michigan fishing trip to Suder for free. But both Meyer and Suder both say Suder paid his own way.
As a lobbyist, Meyer cannot legally give anything of value to state officials.
"I paid for everything," Suder said. "I'm very well aware of the ethics rules."
Suder said he paid at the time of the trip $116 for a salmon fishing outing, $100 for a walleye fishing outing and $194 for a hotel stay during the trip. Two weeks after the excursion, Suder said he paid $25 to reimburse for the fuel costs for a harbor tour he took on a boat owned by Tom Kleiman, a United Sportsmen board member.
Also scheduled to be on the fishing trip were a current and a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. The former lobbyist, Darren LaSorte, is also a board member of the United Sportsmen Foundation.
Rep. Nick Milroy of South Range, the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee, said he was concerned that Suder took the "expensive fishing trip with special interest groups and registered lobbyists."
"Public officials are held to a higher standard," Milroy said. "The people who elect us expect more of us than this."