Impressed by the level of outrage after the Parkland school shooting, I went to the Center for Responsive Politics’ invaluable website, opensecrets.org, to see just how much the National Rifle Association has been spending to buy influence in Congress.
If you look only at direct contributions to candidates, you get a good sense of where the NRA is coming from, but nowhere near a comprehensive view of its activities. In 2016 the NRA spent $1,085,150 on Congressional candidates, making it the 488th most generous lobbying group out of more than 18,000.
Of that total, only $10,550 — less than one percent — went to Democrats. All were in the House of Representatives at the time. They are Sanford Bishop of Georgia ($3,500); Henry Cuellar of Texas ($3,000); Collin Peterson of Minnesota ($2,000); Tim Walz of Minnesota ($2,000); and my favorite candidate for president in 2020, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
She got $50. Not sure why the NRA bothered, especially since she gets only a 7% favorability rating from it.
Those numbers tell us two things. The first is that the NRA overwhelmingly supports Republicans. The second is that it’s a player, but not a huge player, when it comes to direct campaign contributions.
Ah, but there’s the rub. It turns out direct campaign contributions comprised less than two percent of the NRA’s political activity in 2016. It also spent $3,188,000 on lobbying and $54,398,558 on outside spending, defined by the Center for Responsive Politics as “political expenditures made by groups or individuals independently of, and not coordinated with, candidates’ committees.”
You know, like those hit pieces that say “did you know the candidate running against our guy is a child molester? Just sayin’.”
The NRA was the ninth-biggest spender among 170 such organizations. So that’s where its influence comes from.
A little over $37 million of the $54 million was spent against Democratic candidates. A little more than $17 million was spent to support Republican candidates. So they definitely lean toward negative campaigning, yet another blight on our system.
And here’s a surprise: gun control organizations have nowhere near those resources.
I think it’s time we changed that. If you’d like to contribute to gun control organizations, I suggest two:
Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona Congresswoman nearly assassinated by a crazed gunman, chairs Americans for Responsible Solutions. In 2016 it spent $2,759,842.
And Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, runs the Independence USA PAC, dedicated to “candidates and causes that will help protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence, improve our schools, and advance our freedoms.” Bloomberg’s PAC spent $13,429,757 during the 2016 campaign, though not exclusively on gun control.
Americans overwhelmingly favor sensible gun control, like conducting background checks on gun buyers. But we’ve been figuratively outgunned. If we want the laws to change, we need to put our wallets into the effort. And if these two PACs aren’t right for you (I confess I had trouble figuring out how to contribute to them, which is why I didn’t pass along a link) you’re welcome to suggest another.