Gun group says official has conflict of interests

A gun industry trade group is pressing California Attorney General Kamala Harris to act on its complaint about Fish and Game Commission President Mike Sutton, whom it says shouldn’t be involved in implementing the state’s new ban on lead ammunition in hunting.

Mike SuttonThe National Shooting Sports Foundation first wrote to Harris in December about Sutton, who still has one more year to serve on the six-year term to which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger re-appointed him in 2009. Sutton, 56, of Carmel Valley, is former executive director of Audubon California and remains the National Audubon Society’s vice president for the Pacific Flyway.

The foundation’s complaint says Sutton has received and still receives income from Audubon – a state lobbyist employer – while serving as the commission’s president. “His employer lobbies the Commission on governmental decisions which he makes and/or participates in, contrary to the letter and spirit of California laws proscribing incompatible activities,” the complaint says.

Audubon co-sponsored last year’s AB 711, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October to ban use of lead ammunition in hunting by mid-2019. The new law lets the state Fish and Wildlife Department suspend the ban if the federal government prohibits non-lead ammunition because it’s considered armor-piercing.

The Fish and Game Commission in December started the process of developing regulations to implement this new law, and Sutton took part in that discussion; it’s back on the commission’s agenda for this Wednesday, Feb. 5.

“I believe that Commissioner Sutton’s participation in the discussion of these proposed regulations is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of California’s conflict of interest and incompatible activities laws, regulations, and policies,” Lawrence Keane, the NSSF’s vice president and general counsel, wrote to Harris in a follow-up letter Monday. “This is the precise type of scenario these rules were developed to prevent – a public official who has a private interest that makes it impossible to impartially carry out his or her official duties.”

The San Diego Union Tribune reported in 2009 that Sutton was accused of a conflict of interest after taking part in the commission’s decision-making on the Marine Life Protection Act while working as director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Center for the Future of the Oceans. Both the aquarium and the push for the MLPA were funded in large part by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Sutton didn’t return an email seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • AnthonyCanales

    Commission President, and Audubon Executive Director, Mike Sutton’s interactions with both the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation and National Audubon’s candidacy for a grant at a Wildlife Conservation Board that Sutton also serves on is more complicated than what is being portrayed above.

    See the material at: http://www.calgunlaws.com/a-tangled-web/ for a better picture of the controversy.