Gun Control Groups Raising More Cash Than NRA Since Newtown, Figures Show
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Political donations to groups supporting gun control have overtaken money raised by the National Rifle Association and its allies in the 16 months since the Newtown school shooting, according to latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Though campaign finance experts say officially-declared money is the tip of the iceberg for both sides, the limited public figures available suggest recent efforts to build grassroots organisations to rival the political clout of gun rights advocates may be further advanced than previously thought.
The hopes of gun control advocates to overturn the long-held financial dominance of the gun lobby received a boost earlier this month when former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to spend at least $50m over the coming year supporting campaigns for enhanced background checks and other gun control measures.
Yet the NRA, which hosted an estimated 70,000 visitors at its annual conference in Indianapolis at the weekend, has long dismissed Bloomberg as an east coast billionaire lacking popular support.
Now, however, FEC figures show that other groups, such as the one run by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Arizona, are out-raising the NRA through funding committees set up to gather small donations too.
The Americans For Responsible Solutions political action committee (Pac), set up by Giffords and her husband after she was shot in 2011, has so far raised more than $15m in the 2013/14 political cycle compared with $14.9m by the NRA's Pac over the same time.
Hundreds of small donations received by Americans For Responsible Solutions include $500 given in February by William Begg, a Connecticut doctor who runs the medical centre that treated many of the children shot at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown in December 2012.
In total, gun control groups declared $21.3m in contributions since the November 2012 election, versus $16.3m raised by gun rights groups, which include Gun Owners of America, Safari Club International, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Association for Gun Rights.
Independence USA, Bloomberg's Super Pac – which is not subject to individual donor limits – has recorded donations of $6.2m from him during the same timeframe, but is likely to absorb the bulk of his promised $50m in the run-up to November's midterm elections – further widening the overall gap in future.
Historically, gun rights activists have outspent those in favour of tighter laws by as much as 100 to 1, according to an analysis carried out a year ago by the Sunlight Foundation, which studied cumulative data up to the 2012 election.
Its analysis focused on their contributions to candidates, which are limited this early in the 2014 cycle, rather than the money they raised from donors, and indicates how one-sided fundraising has been in the past.
But Kathy Kiely, a campaign finance expert with the Sunlight Foundation, an independent Washington research group, noted that publicly declared money is only one part of the power of the gun lobby. “The NRA gives money and buys ads, but their real strength is in grassroots organising,” she said. “This is the big challenge for the gun control groups.”
Fear of negative advertising funded by independent issues groups, which do not have to be declared to the FEC in the same way, is credited with helping block efforts to pass a bill to introduce background checks on gun buyers last April.
But perhaps the clearest example of this came last September in a recall election in Colorado, which was prompted by a petition against Democrats who had voted for similar laws in the state senate.