Weapons of Mass Democracy Destruction: Gun PAC Money and the NRA Scorecard

gun pacs

After the bitter results of Wednesday’s Senate vote to kill the Manchin-Toomey amendment requiring background checks for commercial gun purchases, it became all too apparent that the will of the people is being completely ignored, as lobbyist drive our legislators and compel their votes. Polls showed that 89% of Americans support background checks, but we didn’t get them, because gun lobbyists didn’t want us to have them.

On Thursday, Open Secrets published the list of gun rights PAC money. They concluded, “Nearly all of the members who voted against the amendment have received substantial amounts of money from the political action committees of gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association. Some of the members who supported the amendment have also been recipients of gun rights PAC money.”

Adding contributions since 2007, Open Secrets determined that a total of $527.97K was given to the senators behind the NO votes, while $68.33K was given to the senators behind the YES votes.

Open Secrets defined “gun rights money” as PAC contributions from gun rights groups, gun control groups, and gun manufacturers. Gun rights PACs spent the most money on our legislators, with Republican Dean Heller raking in the most cash at $42,247.00.

Republicans are expected to vote with the NRA, so the fact that all but four did was no surprise. The NRA has firm control over the GOP, and it’s not just about the money. It’s the culture of very vocal gun paranoiacs they’ve created (most gun owners wanted background checks, so this very vocal group is not the majority of gun owners).

Of the four Democrats who voted no, two got PAC money from gun rights groups, and at first glance, it doesn’t seem like enough money to influence a vote. Democrat Max Baucus of Montana received $7,950 from gun rights PACs and voted no, and Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas got $2,000 from gun rights PACs and voted no. Since this money is a total contribution since 2007, it’s just a drop in the bucket.

But giving direct contributions via PAC money isn’t the only way to influence a vote. There’s also the looming threat of negative and often false smear campaigns via TV ads come election time. The NRA made a big show about “scoring” yesterday’s vote, and all four of the Senate Dems who voted no have good scores with the NRA.

To that end, red-state Democrats feel vulnerable and showed it yesterday with their votes. Democrat Mark Begich of Alaska, who as a Democrat did not attract any PAC money from gun rights groups, still voted no on the bill. As a red-state Democrat, he thinks he can’t afford a bad rating from the NRA. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) also voted no, but gets no money from the PACs. A red state Democrat fears the NRA scorecard.

It may become relevant in the future to note that the NRA’s threat to score legislators is a done deal, and should this bill ever find its way to a vote again, like say as an amendment, the NRA might not be able to wield so much power. Something to keep your eyes on…

You can follow the money, but it doesn’t tell the whole tale. The power and influence that come with wealth can really impact culture and thus make a good score via the NRA’s scorecard a necessary requirement. Power and influence can also buy nefarious ads to run against your perhaps otherwise well-meaning elected official.

When the NRA says they’re “scoring” a vote, they don’t need to contribute directly to get what they want. They have the dark money of SuperPACs to buy ads come election time, and that money scares your legislators, because too many voters fall for the lies.

* Per Open Secrets, the amounts indicated are” total direct PAC contributions to US Senators received between 2007 and March 31st, 2013. This data was last updated on 4/18/2013.”

Image: Open Secrets

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