Animal Rights Group Seeks Legitimacy in Politics

By Michael L. Betsch | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - America's first major political action committee devoted to electing "humane-minded" candidates to public office is using its nearly $300,000 war chest to fund primarily Democratic congressional campaigns. One critic calls the Humane USA PAC "extreme" and claims the group's agenda would hurt hunters and fishermen.

According to Humane USA, "Strong animal protection laws are produced by humane-minded elected officials, and the best way to secure a large crop of humane-minded legislators is to support them during their election campaigns."

Founded in late 1999 as the political arm of the Humane Society of the United States, Humane USA boasts that its board members and advisors hail from the "top grassroots and national animal protection leaders."

The group counts among its active supporters: Fund for Animals, Farm Sanctuary, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Doris Day Animal League, Animal Welfare Institute, The Ark Trust and Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.

Humane USA claims it is the "only national animal protection group that is allowed to participate in candidate election campaigns." That's because other animal rights groups are considered charitable organizations and are legally barred from endorsing or funding candidates under terms of their tax status determined by the Internal Revenue Service.

Wayne Pacelle, chairman of Humane USA, said it's no coincidence that his group, which has no IRS restrictions, "predominantly" contributes to the campaigns of Democratic candidates.

According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records published by the Center for Responsive politics at, Humane USA's contributions to Democratic congressional candidates so far in the 2002 election cycle outnumber those made to Republicans by a margin of 9-to-1.

To date, Humane USA has given a total of $38,000 to 30 Democratic candidates and $2,500 to the House Democratic Campaign Committee. Only four Republicans have received contributions from the group amounting to $4,500.

Pacelle predicted Humane USA's contributions would end up more like 70/30 percent in favor of Democrats by Election Day. reports that Humane USA has spent $123,525 so far in this election cycle. Approximately $50,000 has been used for political consulting and advocacy mailings, which Pacelle said often include opposition attack ads. The remainder was allocated to miscellaneous expenditures including catering and operational expenses.

A critical factor in determining whether a candidate receives the endorsement and financial assistance of Humane USA, Pacelle said, is how well that candidate performs in the group's "Congressional Questionnaire."

The questionnaire asks candidates whether they will support "maintaining or increasing annual funding" for a variety of animal rights legislation including: the Endangered Species Act; African Elephant Conservation Act; the use of birds, rats and mice in medical research; and, the Humane Slaughter Act.

Pacelle said any candidate who opposes the Humane Slaughter Act, which stipulates that animals are rendered "insensitive" to pain prior to slaughter, would not receive Humane USA's endorsement.

"If somebody couldn't support one of the easiest issues that we have in the public policy realm, then they're not going to be with us on the tough stuff," he said.

According to Pacelle, Humane USA's political activism should demonstrate the group is serious about getting animal rights legislation introduced at all levels of government.

"We're not just seeking attention," he said. "We're seeking some tangible public policy changes that improve the lives of animals, often in very basic ways."

And, Pacelle said he's confident the "vast majority" of Americans support the group's legislative agenda.

Comparison to PETA

"I think most people would agree, or any elected official would agree, that giving quality welfare to animals is a noble thing, but the Humane Society is just going to an extreme with it," said Center for Consumer Freedom spokesman Mike Burita. "They're about as far extreme as ... PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)."

Burita said Pacelle made his "left-leaning, partisan" agenda quite clear during a presentation at the Animal Rights 2002 convention in McLean, Va., last summer. Burita recalled the Humane USA chairman petitioning animal rights activists interested in challenging "corporate agriculture" to participate in the 2002 election efforts.

For example, Burita said Humane USA's sister organization, the Humane Society of the United States, is currently collecting petitions across the country to place ballot measures before voters that would extend human rights to farm animals and pets.

He noted that Florida voters would determine on Nov. 5 whether two-foot by seven-foot gestation crates are suitable housing for pregnant pigs living on commercial hog farms.

Burita said Pacelle is using Humane USA as a tool to support the political campaigns of activist politicians who will be instrumental in introducing and supporting animal rights. And, he said there's an obvious reason why the group endorses few Republicans.

"They're definitely loading questionnaires so they can get the responses they want of people that are going to agree with their extreme views," Burita said. "It really is a very left-leaning partisan organization."

Sportsmen vs. 'Animal Rightists'

Bob Kane, spokesman for the Sportsmen and Animal Owners Voting Alliance (SAOVA), said his organization has good reason to fear the animal rights agenda of Pacelle and Humane USA. "It's the largest and the most sophisticated and politically powerful of the animal rights groups in the country," he said.

SAOVA describes itself as a "nationwide, nonpartisan group of volunteers seeking to elect politicians who will oppose the 'Animal Rightist' threat to our rights as Americans."

Kane said his group strongly opposes the political activity of Humane USA because Pacelle has aggressively lobbied for federal and state laws that restrict or eliminate hunting, fishing, the ownership of pure breed pets and certain livestock, circuses, rodeos, medical research on animals and other activities.

According to Kane, Humane USA has had success promoting its animal rights agenda to candidates in urban regions across America because residents in those areas are unaware of its detriment to farmers and sportsmen.

"These urbanites seldom see a farm, hunt or fish," he said. "They're easy prey to the Animal Rightist line."

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