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If GOP lawmakers don't act to prevent mass shootings, their donors will

If GOP lawmakers don't act to prevent mass shootings, their donors will

Al Hoffman, Jr. describes himself as a “conservative Republican.”

A real-estate developer and U.S. ambassador to Portugal between 2005 and 2007, he has definitely been a heavy-hitter in GOP fundraising circles. His political history goes way back. He served as co-chairman of George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign for president. He was also the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

In addition, he was chairman of Jeb Bush’s re-election campaign for governor of Florida.

In 2008 he raised money for the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden eyeing Cindy McCain for UK ambassador position: report The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Juan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media MORE (R-Ariz.) and did the same for the 2012 presidential campaign of Republican Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Biden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies MORE. In 2016 he gave $1 million to Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign.

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Hoffman is 84 years old. He created quite a storm recently by publicly announcing, in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school-shooting tragedy, that “he will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons.” He’s referring to those candidates that he has supported in the past.

 

Chief among them is Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who reportedly is considering running for the Senate. His opponent would be incumbent Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 MORE (D-Fla.).

This week I interviewed Hoffman. I wanted to know what has happened since he issued this pledge and what success he has had. More important, what motivated him to do this extraordinary, maverick move?

Scott has said “everything is on the table” regarding new gun regulations. That sounds promising but is definitely not very specific. Hoffman told me that, as of Tuesday afternoon, he had not talked to Scott, even though he said he had phoned the governor and sent him several e-mails.

He went on to say that if Scott decides to run for the Senate, “he hopes he wins” — and he’s willing to give him some time by saying “let’s see what he does.”

He has not yet heard back from Jeb Bush, either.

One elected official who he has heard back from is Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members Mast fends off Democratic challenge to retain Florida House seat Warren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates MORE (R-Fla.). Mast seems to be Hoffman’s first recruit, and he proudly proclaims that Mast “is in with me.”

Hoffman has some strong feelings about Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday MORE (R-Fla.). He reminds me that Rubio “took $3 million from the NRA in his last campaign.” He obviously feels the senator is not persuadable because he said in our interview that he “will not be contacting Rubio.”

Hoffman himself wants to make clear that his firm stance on the entire gun issue is, in his words, “not an NRA issue.” He says he is a “firm believer in the Second Amendment” and, in fact, holds a permit for a concealed weapon. He has “a loaded handgun at home.”

But when it comes to “assault weapons,” he is adamantly opposed to them. He says “children are being killed” and these weapons are “designed to kill.” In a strong, passionate voice, he says: “We have to stop this.”

He points to Australia’s experience: In 1996, that nation suffered a mass killing (more than 35 people) with an assault weapon. The Australians took action. They banned assault weapons and instituted a massive “buy-back” program. Hoffman wants this country to use the “Australian model” and wants a “permanent ban” on assault weapons, with legislation that has no expiration date.

Hoffman plans to “contact every Republican donor I know.” He believes “I’ve still got some juice left. This may be my last hurrah.”

Before ending the call, he proclaims: “We have to protect the sanctity and divinity of our children.” If we don’t act, “we are going to have another mass shooting.”

Legendary Democratic political boss Jess “Big Daddy” Unruh once said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Candidates and politicians need money to run their campaigns. They can’t win and stay in office if the funds are not there.

What Hoffman is doing is unexpected and just might start a movement. This movement of “fat cats” and “heavy-hitters” not writing checks might change the politicians’ behavior. Instead of doing nothing, they would write and approve national legislation that would ban assault weapons and maybe even more.

The debate sounds and feels different this time, after Parkland. Students are leading the way, making themselves seen and heard. Now, if another group of players gets into the game, maybe things will change, and lives will be saved.

Hoffman should be applauded and praised. Let’s hope he is successful and his actions will help to stop the madness.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.