WASHINGTON — A major Republican donor is stepping up his effort to enlist conservative allies in his unlikely fight for new gun laws, sending thousands of letters to GOP contributors encouraging them to pressure party leaders on the issue in the wake of last week's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
Al Hoffman Jr., a real estate developer who lives in nearby Palm Beach, is one of the GOP's most prominent donors. He has served as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, and in similar roles for the campaigns of Mitt Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and several members of the Bush family.
Former President George W. Bush rewarded Hoffman with an ambassadorship to Portugal.
But after last week's massacare, which left 17 dead, Hoffman said he's cutting off support to any candidates or groups who don't endorse renewing the ban on assault weapons, the kind of firearms employed in almost every recent mass shooting.
"I thought 'What can I do?' and finally a good friend said, 'Why don’t you start withholding checks until you find somebody who will support the advocacy for a gun legislation?'" Hoffman told Ali Velshi on MSNBC Monday.
Hoffman first issued his demand to a handful of Florida Republican officials with whom he is close, including Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush, according to the New York Times. Scott, who is term-limited, is expected to run for Senate this year against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Within a day, Hoffman found at least one ally — a fellow Florida Republican donor — who signed up for the boycott, according to the Times.
Now, Hoffman told Velshi, he's "sending thousands of letters out now to all Republican donors" to join him.
"No money, no guns," Hoffman said. "We got to do this."
Hoffman acknowledged he faces an steep climb, since Republicans in recent years have shown no interest in defying gun rights advocates like the National Rifle Association, which oppose virtually all new restrictions on guns.
The White House on Monday said President Donald Trump supports strengthening the system that conducts background checks on gun buyers, but few expect him to go beyond that incrimental step.
President Bill Clinton signed the Assault Weapon Ban in 1994, but Hoffman's former boss, George W. Bush, allowed the law to lapse in 2004 after its 10-year expiration date. Efforts to renew it have failed.
The ban prohibited the sale of military-style semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, whose all-black styling has made it the most popular rifle in America — but also the choice of many mass shooters.
Seven states and the District of Columbia have now passed their own assault weapons bans.
Critics, including some on the left, say the assault weapons bans does little more than regulate the cosmetics of firearms while having minimal impact on gun deaths.
Many gun control advocates have shifted their priorities to other policy goals, such as universal background checks, which are seen as both more comprehensive and more politically palatable.