By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A hunting club that suspended a Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has given money to the campaigns of numerous U.S. politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, a watchdog group's records show.
Safari Club International said it had suspended member Walter Palmer and called for an inquiry into the death of a lion known as Cecil. The big cat's killing has triggered an international furor and an investigation by U.S. wildlife authorities.
The Arizona-based club, which advocates for hunters' rights, has raised funds over the years in support mostly of Republicans, according to the website of the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group.
It has sought to influence Congress as lawmakers in recent years have debated bills related to firearms restrictions and keeping federal lands open to hunting, fishing and recreational shooting.
In the 2014 election cycle, Safari Club International made $694,640 in political contributions, according to the center's website.
Of that total, $451,061 went to scores of federal candidates and $243,579 went to the Hunter Defense Fund, a political action committee.
That PAC was active in the Colorado Senate race, spending $85,495 in support of Republican Cory Gardner and $64,504 against the man Gardner unseated, Democratic Senator Mark Udall.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, got $8,000 in campaign contributions from the club, while Boehner got $5,000, the center said.
Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana got $10,000; Senator Steve Daines of Montana, $9,998; Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, $8,000; and Representative Ken Calvert of California and Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, got $7,000 each, the center said.
There was no immediate comment from any of the lawmakers about the contributions, and Safari Club International's spokesman did not return a phone call.
In a statement about the killing of the lion, Safari Club International said it "condemns unlawful and unethical hunting practices."
It said it supports "only legal hunting practices and those who comply with all applicable hunting rules and regulations." The club says it has 47,000 members worldwide.
The club's website says it is "the only pro-hunting organization with an office in Washington, D.C., that has full-time policy experts, in-house legal counsel, and certified wildlife biologists on staff dedicated to the protection of hunting for SCI members and hunters everywhere."
It calls it a “legislative victory” that gun control bills failed in the Senate two years ago.
Palmer has admitted killing Cecil the lion but has said he thought the hunt he was on was legal. Efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful.
The killing of Cecil the lion is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether it was part of a conspiracy to violate U.S. laws against illegal wildlife trading, a source close to the case told Reuters on Thursday.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Ken Wills)