As a chorus of voices — including those of some historically pro-gun conservatives — rises for more restrictions on the sale of assault weapons in the wake of the Newtown massacre, the biggest looming obstacle may be the House of Representatives, where the National Rifle Association has given generously to members of the GOP majority.
The five biggest House recipients of the NRA's largesse — which our colleague Lee Drutman analyzes today — are all veteran Republicans: Don Young of Alaska, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Pete Sessions of Texas, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Lee Terry of Nebraska.
In all, members of the incoming Congress have received $3.4 million in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Assocaition's political action committee over the years, according to data from Sunlight's Influence Explorer and the Center for Responsive Politics.
The five have garnered between $56,250 for Goodlatte to a high of $71,250 for Young, who will be starting his 30th year in Congress in January. The rightward tilt is no surprise: Of the donations the NRA's PAC has made since 1990 to federal candidates, 83 percent have gone to Republicans, according to CRP.
Goodlatte and Sessions are in particularly good shape to be protectors of the gun lobby's interests in the next Congress. Goodlatte will be taking the helm of the House Judiciary Committee, a panel that has jurisdiction over constitutional rights. Sessions, the outgoing chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, will head the Rules Committee, which determines what legislation goes to the House floor, how many amendments can be offered, and the rules for debate.
While veteran members of Congress top the all-time list for NRA contributions, the gun lobby's PAC focused this year on other House members. Two of its top recipients who prevailed were Reps. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, and Jim Matheson, D-Utah. Another big beneficiary of NRA funds this year is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Here are profiles of the five all-time biggest beneficiaries of NRA money, in order of how much much they've received from the group's PAC:
The salty, blunt-speaking Alaska congressman has had an up-and-down relationship with Alaska voters over the years — facing some close election battles — but is so beloved by the NRA that he is on its board of directors, a distinction held by only one other member of Congress according to the group's Internal Revenue Service filing in 2010; the other is Dan Boren, D-Okla., who is retiring from Congress. Young has received more money — over $70,000 — in campaign contributions from the NRA than any other member of the incoming 113th Congress.
In endorsing his reelection this year and giving him an A+ rating, the NRA noted his cosponorship of the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity amendment, which would make concealed carry permits valid across state lines; the legislation passed the House but has stalled in the Senate.
Young, 79, was a powerful player in the House for many years. He used to lead the Transportation and Infrastruture Committee and, before that, the Resources Committee, where he played a crucial role in getting the House to pass legislation opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. But his influence has waned. A Justice Department inquiry that was later dropped cost him his ranking position on the Natural Resources Committee in 2008. He was also investigated by the House Ethics Committee in 2011 but cleared of wrongdoing.
Chabot received over $65,000 in contributions from the NRA throughout his political career. This includes over $35,000 supporting Chabot in the 2008 election, when, after serving Ohio’s 1st Congressional District for over a decade, he lost to Democrat Steve Driehaus. However, Chabot took back his seat in 2010, thanks in part to over $21,000 worth of support from the NRA.
The NRA gave Chabot an “A” rating in 2012, and the Gun Owners of America gave him a perfect 100%. He has garnered extremely low ratings from anti-gun groups the Brady Campaign and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, receiving a 10% and a 0%, respectively.
Chabot supported legislation that extended federal recognition of concealed carry permits and a bill that made it easier for gun dealers to sell across state lines. He voted against a bill that would have forced 24-hour background checks on anyone purchasing a firearm at a gun show.
Chabot holds a spot in the House Judiciary Committee, including the Subcommittee on the Constitution, a position that gives him a say over constitutional amendments and rights, including the right to bear arms.
Sessions is a self-proclaimed lifetime member of the NRA and has staunchly defended Second Amendment rights in Congress. The NRA contributed $64,000 to Sessions over the course of his political career, including nearly $5,000 in the 2012 election cycle. His consistent pro-gun voting record also includes cosponsoring the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act. He also helped introduce the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, which allowed firearms dealers to sell and deliver any licensed firearm to any state. Sessions also favored striking down D.C.’s gun ban. For his steadfast pro-gun stance, the NRA has rewarded Sessions with an “A+” rating and endorsed him in his 2010 election.
Sessions was recently tapped by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to become the next Chairman of the House Rules Committee. This powerful position makes him effectively the gatekeeper of the House floor, controlling how measures are amended and debated.
Terry squeaked out a too-close-for-comfort victory this election, earning an 8th term in the House. The NRA's PAC tried to help him, giving him $4,500. In backing of its endorsement of Terry in 2010, the NRA mentioned his support of many top NRA priorities, including his cosponsorship of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which became law in 2005 and protects the gun industry against lawsuits when their guns are used in crimes. The law is still facing many challenges, including a case that hit the Alaska Supreme Court this year. The NRA also noted his cosponsorship of a bill to overturn D.C.'s handgun ban and firearm registration requirement. The Supreme Court overturned D.C.'s handgun ban in 2008 anyhow.
The Virginia congressman who easily won an 11th term this November will become the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a key position that oversees constitutional rights — and may see hearings about any new legislation proposed in the wake of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook elementary school. He also currently sits on the panel's crime subcommittee. He has a conservative voting record — more conservative than 83 percent of House members, according to the National Journal — but also often reaches across the aisle to work with Democrats, especially on technology issues. But if he wants to keep his "A" rating from the NRA, he may not be as willing to compromise on gun issues.
In endorsing him this year, the NRA noted his cosponsorship of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and his co-sponsorship of the National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act.