Gun control groups outspend the crazies

Cash-strapped NRA slows its money flow amid violent and costly midterm elections

Published November 1, 2018 4:00AM (EDT)

Thousands of protesters flood the Utah State Capitol on, March 24, 2018, seeking stronger gun-control measures in response to the school shooting in Parklandd, Fla. (AP/Rick Bowmer)
Thousands of protesters flood the Utah State Capitol on, March 24, 2018, seeking stronger gun-control measures in response to the school shooting in Parklandd, Fla. (AP/Rick Bowmer)

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When historians write the books on this 2018 election cycle, no doubt a few things will be bold-faced: The number of female candidates, the money poured into these midterms and the violence and fear engulfing the election, from February’s Parkland, Fla., school shooting to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre just days before the ballots were cast.

One of the biggest election surprises is that during the 2018 mid-term cycle, gun control groups outspent gun rights groups. To date, gun control groups spent a total of $9.8 million on the election, compared with the paltry $7.7 million spent by gun enthusiasts, which is mostly made up of the political juggernaut the National Rifle Association.

The NRA spent just $7.3 million this critical election cycle in support of its candidates and on media campaigns, namely pushing for Senate hopeful Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and the Senate campaign of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) That represents a $20 million drop from what it spent in the 2014 midterms. The NRA PAC and lobbying arm spent $54.4 million during the 2016 presidential election, with $31.2 million going toward placing Trump in the White House. But the organization itself spent more than $419 million in total expenditures that year in a record spending spree. So, it’s surprising to see the prolific spender tighten its purse strings during such an important mid-term election.

The NRA has been running in the red for two years, due to lagging dues and overspending in the 2016 election, which left the group with a $14.8 million deficit. Its dues fell by slightly more than 20% from 2016 to 2017, according to an audit obtained by OpenSecrets. And events like the Parkland, Fla., shooting have caused the group to stop spending on certain candidates, in this case Gov. Rick Scott (R) of Fla., who is running for a U.S. Senate seat. After the shooting, under immense pressure from the public and the articulate and politically savvy victims of the shooting, Scott and the Florida legislature raised the gun-purchasing age for rifles in Florida to 21 from 18.

On the flipside, the gun control groups have ramped up investment during the mid-term cycle, through PACs led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)

Gun control groups have spent just $4.3 million directly over the past 29 years, excluding outside spending. In the 2014 cycle, outside spending came in at a whopping nine times that of the 2010 and 2012 cycles combined at $8.6 million, according to an analysis by Center for Responsive Politics. Though in 2016, it accounted for only $3 million, which was completely dwarfed by the gun rights groups’ $55 million election spend.

Giffords heads a hybrid PAC/super Pac, known as the GIFFORDS PAC, which spent more than $5.3 million on Democratic candidates this election cycle.

The Bloomberg-backed Super PAC, Everytown for Gun Safety, has spent more than $3.8 million on Democratic campaigns with the bulk of it – some $3.8 million – going to the election of Lucy McBath (D) in Georgia’s 6  thCongressional District. McBath has been a spokesperson for gun safety issues since losing her son Jordan Davis in a senseless shooting in 2012 and has made gun safety one of her main campaign issues.

Some Republican targets of gun control groups are Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) and John Culberson (R-Texas), based on their gun control voting records.

By Jillian S. Ambroz

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2018 Midterm Elections Campaign Spending Dcreport Gun Control Nra