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How the NRA Exerts Influence Beyond Political Contributions

There is more to the story than direct campaign contributions. Here are other ways the NRA – or similar political groups – can influence politics.
Image: National Rifle Association Holds Annual Meeting In Louisville, KY
Gun enthusiasts look over Smith & Wesson pistols.Scott Olson / Getty Images

After a mass shooting, the spotlight inevitably turns to the National Rifle Association, the nation’s most powerful gun lobby and one of the most significant donors to political campaigns each year.

The NRA’s campaign contributions to individual federal candidates are well-documented, with each contribution limited to $2,700 per cycle to each candidate or their personal political action committee.

But political influence from outside groups is far more than just cold hard cash in the form of direct campaign contributions.

The Washington Post reports, for example, that the NRA has donated less than $4 million to members of Congress in the last 18 years. In an era where some Senate races cost nearly $100 million, $4 million seems like very little. Here are other ways the NRA plays a role in policy and politics:

  1. The National Rifle Association could also give to party committees and the national party. A maxed-out donation to the national party quickly increases campaign spending to more than $100,000. Any organization – or person – can also give $33,400 to a party committee, like the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee or their Democratic counterparts. Finally, state and local parties can each receive a $10,000, quickly allowing campaign finance totals to sour to nearly half-a-million dollars.
  2. While the organization has to follow campaign limits, its members can make their own political donations, also following campaign finance limits noted above. But with millions of members, political clout builds quickly.
  3. The NRA has a politically active membership. With more than five million members, the NRA constantly communicates with its members about gun issues and advising them how to vote. The organization is also constantly increasing its voter rolls by registering people to vote.
  4. The NRA also activates its membership when elected officials are facing gun-related legislation, resulting in phone calls and emails and letters to Congress. In addition, lawmakers' votes are noted and advertised to their issue-oriented membership.
  5. The NRA has its own super PAC and 501c4 political organization which can run its own political campaign. The two groups combined spent more than $27 million in the 2014 midterm elections on Senate and Congressional candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A lot of that money was spent on political advertising on television, radio and digital, and on direct mail.

In this election cycle, the NRA has already spent $4 million trying to beat a ballot initiative in Nevada.

In 2014, the NRA had a nearly perfect track record in its top races. In the ten races the NRA spent nearly a million dollars or more – eight Senate races and two House races – the candidate the NRA backed candidate won in every race except one.

NRA’s Top Wins, Amount Spent, NRA-backed Candidate

North Carolina Senate: $4.2 million: Thom Tillis won

Colorado Senate: $4 million: Cory Gardner won

Louisiana Senate: $2.7 million: Bill Cassidy won

Iowa Senate: $2.7 million: Joni Ernst won

Arkansas Senate: $1.9 million: Tom Cotton won

Georgia Senate: $1.4 million: David Perdue won

Kansas Senate: $1.2 million: Sen. Pat Roberts won

Arkansas House: $1 million: French Hill won

Kentucky Senate: $900,000: Sen. Mitch McConnell won

NRA’s Top Loss, Amount Spent, NRA-backed Candidate

Minnesota House: $840,000: NRA-backed Steward Mills lost to Rep. Rick Nolan