SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop reacted Thursday to a television ad targeting his efforts to reform the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
"I think I've hit a nerve or at least pocketbook issue somewhere. Anytime somebody becomes vitriolic or vicious on attack ads or personal, I think it means I'm on the right path," he told KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
The spot, which aired during the Republican presidential debate Tuesday, goes after Bishop and three other members of Congress.
Bishop, who heads the House Committee on Natural Resources, unveiled the "Protecting America's Recreation and Conservation Act" last week to the dismay of environmental, conservation and sportsmen's groups.
The draft legislation would "update" the land and water fund, which Bishop said has been turned into a slush fund for the U.S. Department of the Interior to acquire more federal lands, notably in the West.
Multiple groups across the country are trying to head off Bishop in his efforts, asserting his legislation guts the fund. The Western Values Project launched a six-figure campaign that includes an ad aimed at the Utah Republican.
The 30-second spot says the fund has helped protect parks, playgrounds and trails across the country without costing taxpayers a dime and has support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
"Tell Rob Bishop to get out of the way," the ad says.
Bishop said the 50-year-old fund, which gets money from oil and gas industry fees, is just another way for the federal government to expand its land holdings.
He said he had found that groups will buy land cheaply, sell it at a profit and use the money to buy more land or to subsidize their payrolls.
"I don't think it's the role of the government to be paying nongovernment organizations to fund themselves," Bishop said, adding his bill would impact those groups.
During the life of the fund, he said, nearly $17 billion has been spent on federal land acquisition, and states have used the money for eminent domain purposes — primary components of the fund he says are contrary to its original intent.
Bishop is proposing that at least 45 percent of the $900 million allocated for the fund be distributed to the states for programs to improve urban parks or rehabilitate aging recreation centers.
In addition to directing money to the backlog of deferred maintenance projects at national parks and Forest Service facilities, Bishop wants a portion of the money to fund offshore energy "exploration, innovation and education."