Gun Control Groups, Not The NRA, Are The Big Spenders In State Races

Mar 26, 2018

A demonstrator holds a "STOP the NRA" sign outside city hall during the "March for Our Lives" protest for gun legislation and school safety, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Credit (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Much has been made of the role that campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association has on elected leaders in Washington. Money is flowing on both sides of the gun debate, however.

During last year’s state election, gun rights groups and firearms dealers gave more than $160,000 in campaign contributions. That’s according to an analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project. It’s a good chunk of change, and it was directed largely at members of the General Assembly who sit on committees that routinely stop gun control legislation. But groups that advocate for gun control donated more than $2.4 million, mostly to statewide candidates.

“One of the myths of politics is the idea that NRA money is decisive,” according to Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington. He says the real power of the NRA is not the campaign contributions. It’s the activists who show up at rallies and contact lawmakers and are, essentially, single-issue voters.

“That political action is far more important and far more troubling to lawmakers in terms of the fear of standing up to the NRA than any money put on the table would be,” says Farnsworth.

Take Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, for example. During the 2016 cycle, she received more than $10,000 from the NRA according to campaign finance records from the Federal Election Commission. That gives her the distinction of taking more money from the NRA than any other member of the U. S. House of Representatives.

But it was just a fraction of the total money she raised: $5 million. Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says she’ll probably raise twice that amount this year. “It wouldn’t surprise me in the 10th if Barbara Comstock ends up raising over $10 million. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if she and her Democratic opponent, whoever that ends up being, raise and spend $20 million,” Kidd says.

Last week, Democrats launched a new campaign to point out that Comstock has taken more NRA cash than another the member of the House of Representatives. Republicans countered by pointing out that constitutes only a fraction of her overall fundraising.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that NRA contributions represented 20% of Comstock's fundraising.  The correct percentage is much smaller.)

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.