NRA contributions underscore grip in GOP
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has funneled millions of dollars to Republican senators over the past decade and beyond, contributions that shadow the debate over new gun restrictions following the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas.
The NRA contributed roughly $149,000 to Senate recipients in the 2020 cycle, with nearly all the funds going to Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) topped the list with $16,029 from the NRA in that cycle, followed by Sen. Bill Haggerty (R-Tenn.) with $10,550 and Lindsey Graham with $10,459.
The NRA isn’t the only one spending heavily.
Gun Owners of America, a rival gun-rights group, allocated $45,100 to Senate recipients in the 2020 cycle, according to OpenSecrets, with 100 percent of proceeds going to Republican figures.
There’s also the National Association for Gun Rights. The group spent $20,000 on Senate races in the 2020 cycle, funneling money to five Republican candidates.
Those stacks of cash come with an expectation: that the lawmakers who receive money will side with the gun lobby and oppose legislation that seeks to impose further restrictions on firearms, including as pressure mounts over mass shootings.
Democrats blame the gun lobby for the inability to take action on guns.
“The heaps and gobs of filthy-dark money that the NRA uses to whip Republicans into submission,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told reporters when asked what the largest barrier is to Congress passing gun reform.
The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.
A sizable number of individuals support stricter firearm measures. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll showed 41 percent of registered voters think it is very important and 18 percent think it is somewhat important for lawmakers to approve tougher gun restrictions.
But other polling data hints at the complexity of the issue, and why many Republican lawmakers resist gun control legislation.
A Gallup poll in 2021 found that 52 percent of respondents supported more gun control legislation compared to 35 percent who said laws should stay where they are. Eleven percent said they are in favor of looser laws.
The GOP base is seen as more favorable to gun rights, and most Republicans are more worried about primary challengers than they are of general election opponents. This is particularly true of the House — evidenced on Friday when a GOP lawmaker who endorsed gun-control restrictions bowed out of his reelection bid amid heavy pressure from local Republican leaders — but it is also an issue for Senate candidates.
Republicans with presidential aspirations continue to appear at NRA events.
Just days after the 19 elementary school children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, former President Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and South Dakota’s GOP Gov. Kristi Noem appeared at an NRA annual event to tout their support for gun rights and opposition to new restrictions. The event was in Houston, 300 miles from the scene of the school massacre.
While the NRA has seen its financial prestige decrease over the years because of a handful of legal battles, the event showcased its continued power.
OpenSecrets also estimates that between 1998 and 2022, gun rights groups spent $190.4 million on lobbying efforts — compared to only $28.9 million by gun control groups.
Those investments have proven worthwhile, if one judges the votes on gun legislation.
In 2013, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. — which killed 20 first graders and six staff members — Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) put forward an amendment that sought to expand background checks for purchasers of firearms.
According to OpenSecrets, Toomey has received $1.4 million from the NRA over the course of his career.
Despite its bipartisan sponsorship, the amendment failed to garner enough votes and died in the Senate. The final tally was 54-46, with only four Republicans supporting the measure.
According to OpenSecrets, nearly all of the 46 senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey Amendment had accepted significant campaign contributions from the political action committees of gun rights groups.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who faces a challenging reelection bid this fall, has accepted more than $1.2 million from the NRA over the course of his career, according to OpenSecrets. The congressman told Fox News after the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings that individual states should regulate gun control.
“I don’t think there’s a solution here in the federal government,” Johnson said.
Cruz also said he is opposed to gun control efforts, telling reporters that Democrats and the media propose solutions that “try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” adding “that doesn’t work, it’s not effective, it doesn’t prevent crime.” He said the focus should be on measures that would target felons, fugitives and individuals with mental illnesses.
Cruz has received about $176,000 in NRA contributions over the course of his career, according to OpenSecrets.
Some Republicans have expressed an openness to “red flag” laws — which seek to keep guns out of the hands of people perceived as a danger to themselves and others. But even that legislation faces a tough climb in the Senate, as 10 Republican votes would be needed to break a filibuster.
“I’m certainly prepared for failure,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is leading the negotiations, told CNN on Thursday. “I’ve been here enough times to know that this is probably the most politically complicated and emotionally fraught piece that Congress deals with.”
He noted, however, that he has “heard Republicans make clear that as long as we’re not talking about doing everything at once, as long as we’re talking about more incremental but significant changes, they’re open.”
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