Do campaign contributions affect the likelihood that a member of congress has publicly spoken out after the Sandy Hook School shooting? The answer appears to be yes, and by a lot. Our review found that a representative who received significant campaign support from the NRA was more likely to keep his or her mouth shut about the shooting -- speaking out at 2/3s the rate of an average member of congress.
Just over half (51 percent) of the members of the new Congress that convenes next month have received funding from the National Rifle Association’s political action committee at some point in their political careers, an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation finds. And 47 percent received money from the NRA in the most recent race in which they ran.
The numbers give insight into the depth and breadth of support that the nation’s most powerful gun lobby commands. They also highlight the primary obstacle to quick action on gun control in response to last week’s massacre in Newton, Conn. – deep and long-lasting allegiances to the National Rifle Association.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has brought gun policy back to the forefront of our national conversation. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit Sunlight takes no stance on the issue, but we have put together a collection of resources looking at the legislation, policy and influence around gun rights and gun control, plus the groups and lawmakers involved.
The Gun Lobby
Sunlight Foundation Senior Fellow Lee Drutman reviews the political influence of the National Rifle Association and the leading gun control group, the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. Read his full analysis in this blog post.
Lee notes that when it comes to the debate on gun policy, Congress is pretty much only hearing from one side. The NRA spends 66 times what the Brady Campaign spends on lobbying, and 4,143 times what the Brady Campaign spends on campaign contributions. Since 2011, the NRA spent at least $24.28 million: $16.83 million through its political action committee, plus $7.45 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action.
According to Influence Explorer records, the Brady Campaign spent $5,800 this election cycle and reported $60,000 in lobbying costs.
In the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, one of the emerging debates is whether there will even be a debate. Past mass shootings have come and gone without any action. Many argue that the reason for this inaction is simple: politicians have been afraid to take on the National Rifle Association, the large and influential pro-gun lobby that spent at least $18.6 million this past election cycle - $11.1 million through its Political Victory Fund, plus $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action.
Here are the data: The NRA has spent 73 times what the leading pro-gun control advocacy organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has spent on lobbying in the 112th Congress ($4.4 million to $60,000, through the second quarter of 2012), and 4,143 times what the Brady Campaign spent on the 2012 election ($24.28 million to $5,816). (One caveat on the data is that the NRA itself does a very poor job of accurately reporting its spending, and we must rely on its self-reports.)
Some 24 states followed Florida in putting Stand Your Ground laws on their books, at least ten of which are nearly identical to the measure that’s gained national attention after George Zimmerman, 28, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last month and was not arrested because he said he was acting out of self-defense.
In 2005, Florida passed its Stand Your Ground law, which offers legal immunity to individuals who use deadly force when they believe they are being threatened by another. The National Rifle Association pushed the legislation through state legislatures across the country as an expansion of the nation's gun rights laws.
After Florida passed its law, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted its legislative language as one of the model bills it proposes to legislators across the country on behalf of its member associations, in this case the NRA.
A Sunlight Foundation analysis using automated textual analysis found that not only are the laws similar, but at least 10 of the states based their legislation on nearly identical bills to the one Florida passed and ALEC adopted.
Because some states do not make the original legislation available online, there could be even more states that used what became an ALEC model bill to guide their legislation.
The analysis was able to detect striking similarities and identical phrases across multiple bills, including the phrase, “[a] person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm …,” which is just one of the provisions of the law that is intended to protect people who may have killed another person from being arrested or prosecuted.
Michigan’s House Bill 5153 that passed the state legislature in 2006 was the most similar to Florida’s bill, according to the analysis. When compared to the Florida bill it returned the highest rate of matches than any other bill did at 146 fragments matched. The state bill with the lowest matching rate to Florida was Mississippi Senate Bill 2426 at 20 matching fragment counts.
The ten states that were revealed to have varying degrees of similarities to the Florida bill are:
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
The NRA hasn’t commented on the Martin case specifically, but has said the Stand Your Ground law is good legislation and to call it otherwise would be a mistake.
Florida State officials have said that it will be more difficult to prosecute the shooter, George Zimmerman, if they decide to do so, because of the law.
Breanna Edwards contributed to this post.
House Democrats have reached an agreement with the National Rifle Association on campaign-finance legislation that would roll back the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, removing a major obstacle on the bill, according to House sources. The deal would exempt the NRA and some other large organizations from strict campaign finance disclosures in the bill, which is being pushed by Democratic leaders in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. The NRA had objected to some of the disclosure requirements for the new campaign finance proposals, and that had kept moderate, pro-gun Democrats from backing the legislation. The NRA said it would not comment until specific legislative language is revealed.The deal would exempt non-profit organizations with over one million members, have existed for ten or more years, have members in all 50 states and receive 15 percent or less in contributions from corporations.
Aside from the NRA, I can only think of a few organizations that could fit into this exemption. AARP is one that comes to mind. Citizens Against Government Waste boasts of more than one million members, but I have no idea where they get their money from. If you can think of any other organizations, please leave them in the comments.
We'll have more on this development soon after fully digesting this latest development.
The Sunlight Foundation's recommended legislative response to the Citizens United decision can be found here.