Sponsored by


Note: This story is more than 5 years old.

Gun groups locked and loaded for Nov. 4

Less than a month until the election? Welcome to the OK Corral — the shootout’s just beginning.

Both the National Rifle Association and Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, have said they will unleash a fusillade of ads supporting and attacking candidates in some of the tightest contests in the country this month; the NRA’s barrage began in earnest in September. Another super PAC favoring restrictions on guns, Independence USA, has the substantial backing of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and isn’t expected to sit idle.

The coming weeks will likely shake up one pattern of spending by these groups so far in the 2014 election cycle: While both sides have been active, for the most part they haven’t engaged head-to-head at the federal level.

For example, Americans for Responsible Solutions thus far has spent $2.4 million on independent expenditures — the type of outside ads that explicitly advocate for or against a candidate — in five congressional races. In only one of those — Arizona’s Second District contest for the seat that used to be Giffords’ — has any pro-gun rights group also made independent expenditures, and that was small potatoes: While Giffords’ group has spent $1.1 million attacking the Republican challenger, Martha McSally, the NRA spent $14,069 a week ago on a mass mailing of postcards.

Americans for Responsible Solutions Independent Expenditure by State

On the opposing side, the NRA’s well-oiled money machine has spent $19.3 million on ads explicitly calling for viewers to vote for or against candidates in at least 39 different races. In just one of those other than the Arizona race did a pro-gun control group also spend on such ads: the New Jersey special election in which Cory Booker (D) was voted into the Senate last year. In that one, the NRA spent $23,000, while Independence USA laid out many multiples of that at $732,000.

National Rifle Association Independent Expenditures by State

Independence USA’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment, but that group appears to follow the same template. It has spent $2.4 million on explicitly for-or-against ads, though only in the Booker race and in Illinois’ Second District Democratic primary fight last year, which was another special election. In that one, no gun rights group reported spending any money.

But more direct clashes are commencing. Giffords’ group has said it will be spending to support Democratic candidates in half-a-dozen more races, including the Senate contests in Louisiana, Colorado and North Carolina — several states that could determine which party will control that chamber, each of which the NRA has spent more than $1 million on so far.

The main battle is also still just getting started. The NRA has spent $14.7 million on independent expenditures since Aug. 31 from its PAC’s coffers alone. On that date, according to its FEC filing, it had $18.5 million in cash on hand and had raised $1.2 million just in the month of August, suggesting that it can continue to spend millions of dollars more. Americans for Responsible Solutions super PAC listed having $9 million in cash on hand at the end of June (the most recent filing available), and although the group has spent cash since then, it doubtless also has raised more. Independence USA, which had not made any recent independent expenditures, was active again in August, raising and spending about $660,000 that month; all the money came from Bloomberg.

Support TucsonSentinel.com today, because a smarter Tucson is a better Tucson.

And these numbers don’t take into account the cash any of these groups may have available in the bank accounts of their politically active nonprofit affiliates, which won’t report their fundraising totals for roughly a year or more.

Untrackable cash

The NRA didn’t respond to a request for an interview. But Pia Carusone, a senior adviser to Americans for Responsible Solutions, said the spending reported to the Federal Election Commission by the huge gun rights organization represents only a fraction of its involvement in seeking to influence the results of the midterms.

“The NRA is an organization that enjoys over a $200 million annual budget; they are elusive and undeniably powerful,” Carusone said. “It’s not always easy to tell where they’re active and where they’re not. The independent expenditures only tell one part of the story.”

The NRA has an enormous membership base that it can contact directly on political issues, avoiding most public disclosure. But it also spends heavily on so-called “issue ads” — political advertising that names candidates, but stops short of calling for voters to support or oppose them.

The NRA is not alone in using issue ads; almost all of the groups involved in the national debate, including ARS, Independence USA, Everytown for Gun Safety (a Bloomberg-backed coalition that includes Mayors Against Illegal Guns) and a multitude of gun rights groups have run them in the past year. The advantage? Unless the ads run within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election, the spending need not be reported to the FEC in the same immediate way that more explicit ads require.

The National Association for Gun Rights, for example, has a political action committee that has reported giving away roughly $157,000 this election cycle to various political candidates (a maximum of $10,000 apiece) and it has spent $19,000 on ads calling for a candidate’s election or defeat. But those numbers almost certainly don’t represent the true breadth of the group’s spending, as it has evolved in the last two years to become a new and noisy grassroots-oriented player that spent $6.7 million on lobbying in 2013.

NAGR president Dudley Brown declined to discuss exactly how much the group is laying out for the midterms, but said the group is “spending significant money from our (c)(4) on issue advocacy.” Both NAGR and the NRA have 501(c)(4) groups connected to their main organizations that can spend on elections without having to identify their donors.

FCC records from television stations confirm that NAGR has bought ads in Virginia, Arizona and Pennsylvania. The group has also spent on state-level elections — in Colorado, for example. Those ad buys don’t always show up in the FCC filings by stations.

Closer Fights at Local Level

At the state level, there seems to be a willingness by both sides to fight the enemy in closer quarters. Records of spending on state races — let alone local municipal contests – are far from uniform, making it difficult to gauge the level of activity. Still, anecdotal evidence suggests the direct fighting is fierce.

For example, in the race for Milwaukee County Sheriff, the NRA at first offered relatively low-key support for the incumbent sheriff with fundraising emails and contacts with members. Then Independence USA announced it would make a $150,000 ad buy in support of the challenger. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the NRA responded with tens of thousands of dollars in spending for web advertising on behalf of its candidate, quickly escalating a small-time race.

TucsonSentinel.com relies on contributions from our readers to support our reporting on Tucson's civic affairs. Donate to TucsonSentinel.com today!
If you're already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors, colleagues and customers to help support quality local independent journalism.

Everytown for Gun Safety announced last month that it would wade into a number of federal races and made over 100 endorsements of state and federal candidates. But the group has no PAC that gives directly to candidates, nor has it made any independent expenditures. It has, however, according to FCC TV station records, been buying issue ads around the country. A spokesperson wouldn’t discuss the group’s strategy leading up to Nov. 4.

However, the group has courted publicity and its ads have attracted attention (one features gunshot victims displaying their scars), bringing free media coverage that can’t be quantified.

Bashing Bloomberg

Pro-gun rights groups have also staged a PR battle with direct attacks on Bloomberg himself. The NRA’s new $2 million ad buy directly targets the billionaire. Likewise, the NAGR’s Brown, while declining to discuss his own group’s tactics, was quick to pounce on him as well.

Bloomberg is spending more money than anyone in politics right now,” Brown said in an email. “With $50 million in the pipeline, I’m certain his operatives are having a tough time spending it all.”

Erika Soto Lamb, communications director for Everytown, swiftly denied that Bloomberg had ever said he’d spend $50 million on the elections — the only topic she would address.

“We have never stated that Mike Bloomberg would spend $50 million on elections but rather, that he has committed to spend that amount on gun violence prevention this year,” she said in an email.

The NRA is pushing the anti-Bloomberg line in several states. In Georgia, it has been running ads lambasting Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn because Bloomberg personally donated to her campaign. In Colorado (where it also has spent money directly on the Senate race), the group launched an ad campaign that mentions no candidates – only Bloomberg.

“People aren’t going to want his money when we’re through with him,” an NRA official told the Wall Street Journal.

Carusone, the Americans for Responsible Solutions adviser who warned against underestimating the activity of the gun rights groups, said that from her perspective, they seemed intent on trying to use Bloomberg as a symbol to stoke the gun debate as a culture war.

“I think that the gun lobby has made a decision that their best strategy is to make this a culture war and perpetuate this ‘us versus them’ notion,” she said. “I think it’s a cheap tactic that’s going to backfire.”

- 30 -
have your say   

1 comment on this story

Oct 15, 2014, 3:59 pm
-1 +1

I am the NRA, and I vote.  And I give.  And I speak up.  We are 5 million members strong.

Sorry, we missed your input...

You must be logged in or register to comment

Read all of TucsonSentinel.com's
coronavirus reporting here »