Does the NRA have GOP’s balls in a money clip?

Many people say the National Rifle Association (NRA) is so influential on Capitol Hill because of its enormous spending on political influence. Even the NRA calls itself “one of the largest and best-funded lobbying organizations” in the United States.

Wondering how much truth there is to it, we’ll follow the money trail and try to answer “Does the NRA have GOP’s balls in a money clip?”.

NRA’s political spending in 2011-2018

I gathered data from Opensecrets.org which has quite a comprehensive set of data regarding politically related spendings.

It appears that political spending is mostly concentrated on election years. Thus I’ll combine the year before and the election year into 1 reporting unit. This means I’ll be examining 2011-2012, 2013-2014, 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 in this article.

Stacking the $

Generally, there are major 3 parts of money deemed as political spending.

  1. Contribution – Money given to candidates and/or parties.
  2. Lobbying Expenses – Money related to lobbying, such as lobbyists fees, communicating expenses, money related to influencing laws, etc..
  3. Outside Spending / Independent Expenditures – Political expenditures made by groups or individuals independently of, and not coordinated with, candidates’ committees.

 

Table & Charts of NRA’s political spending in 2011-2018

National Rifle Assn Contribution Lobbying Expenses Outside Spending Total
2011 – 2012 1,195,942 5,885,000 19,767,043 26,847,985
2013 – 2014 982,152 6,770,000 27,024,898 34,777,050
2015 – 2016 1,091,650 6,793,564 54,398,558 62,283,772
2017 – 2018(24 July) 552,668 7,128,000 1,766,746 9,447,414

Source : https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000082&cycle=2018

The majority of NRA’s spending can be attributed to Outside Spending.

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Aggregate political spending of Gun Rights group

Other than the NRA, I combined funding from other Gun Rights group, such as National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Association for Gun Rights, Gun Owners of America, etc., to see a bigger picture of the Gun Rights group.
 

Gun Rights group’s political spending in 2011-2018

Gun rights group Contribution Lobbying Expenses Outside Spending Total % NRA
2011 – 2012 4,429,991 11,710,562 20,354,068 36,494,621 73.57%
2013 – 2014 3,834,114 27,305,534 27,757,722 58,897,370 59.05%
2015 – 2016 6,128,545 22,647,546 54,874,552 83,650,643 74.46%
2017 – 2018 (24 July) 2,044,795 17,145,454 1,907,819 21,098,068 44.78%

Source : Contribution, Lobbying Expenses, Outside Spending

As you can see, the NRA is a major player, amounting to 45% – 75% of Gun Rights group spending.

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Is this considered a lot?

To determine whether this is a lot, we need to compare the spending numbers to other contributors. here’s a list of what I’ll compare.

  1. Gun Control VS Gun Rights
  2. NRA VS individual top spender
  3. NRA / Gun rights VS Aggregate Political Spending

 

Gun Control VS Gun Rights

Now, I compare 2 opposing groups to see how big a difference there is in terms of political spending.

Year Gun Control Gun Rights Compare
2011 – 2012 710,627 36,494,621 51.4x
2013 – 2014 5,017,579 58,897,370 11.7x
2015 – 2016 5,250,893 83,650,643 15.9x
2017 – 2018 (24 July) 6,074,763 21,098,068 3.5x

Source for Gun Control : Contribution, Lobbying Expenses, Outside Spending

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According to this data, we can see that the gun rights group outspend the gun control group by a wide margin (3.5x-51.4x). Just the NRA alone already contributed more than the whole gun control group.
 

NRA VS individual top spender

The NRA outspends the gun rights group, but how big are they compared to other top contributors?

By compiling data from OpenSecrets.org, I found that the NRA is ranked at 18th in terms of aggregate political spending during 2011-2018 (24 July).

Here’s my compilation if you’re interested in who politically spent the most between 2011-2018 (24 July).

# Name 2018-2017 2016-2015 2014-2013 2012-2011 Total
1 US Chamber of Commerce 133,558,769 218,102,970 234,470,711 238,648,289 824,780,739
2 National Assn of Realtors 87,056,580 130,484,755 120,297,699 79,936,282 417,775,316
3 Priorities USA/Priorities USA Action 999,032 166,878,274 1,210,130 65,176,146 234,263,582
4 Democratic Congressional Campaign Cmte 12,601,686 83,858,775 72,059,406 62,621,456 231,141,323
5 Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte 169,800 105,116,041 70,203,362 53,579,838 229,069,041
6 American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS 1,000 2,590,728 48,345,668 176,636,275 227,573,671
7 National Republican Congressional Cmte 14,016,061 73,661,698 65,292,808 64,654,378 217,624,945
8 Blue Cross/Blue Shield 39,561,877 59,293,088 50,819,210 50,397,288 200,071,463
9 Senate Majority PAC 37,291,594 81,974,733 58,687,097 640,893 178,594,317
10 American Hospital Assn 34,849,054 47,486,956 46,405,838 45,922,608 174,664,456
11 American Medical Assn 33,547,905 43,474,659 40,147,321 41,472,876 158,642,761
12 Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America 41,888,161 39,689,194 36,292,005 39,474,392 157,343,752
13 AT&T Inc 35,355,122 44,421,030 34,432,798 42,764,265 156,973,215
14 Comcast Corp 27,870,827 42,721,300 40,896,821 39,818,490 151,307,438
15 Service Employees International Union 4,007,220 65,331,754 31,487,371 49,313,467 150,139,812
16 Boeing Co 27,235,995 42,825,780 35,346,239 35,373,538 140,781,552
17 General Electric 13,128,331 33,489,964 39,042,074 49,377,185 135,037,554
18 National Rifle Assn 9,447,414 62,283,772 34,777,050 26,847,985 133,356,221
19 Business Roundtable 38,713,000 35,004,975 27,259,650 26,182,750 127,160,375
20 Lockheed Martin 24,705,155 32,680,324 33,183,307 34,520,136 125,088,922

Fun facts : Planned Parenthood political spending was $54,186,371 during the same period. That’s about 40% of the NRA’s spending.

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A graphic comparison between top 5 spenders and the NRA, 2011-2018 (24 July)

Interestingly, even though the NRA is ranked at 18th, the NRA’s spending is slightly more than half of the 5th place (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte).
 

% NRA political spending compared to total political spending

To judge whether the NRA has GOP’s balls in a money clip, it’s also important to look at the big picture. Here’s a table of NRA & Gun rights group political spending compared to total political spending.

Year Total Political Spending National Rifle Assn % of NRA Gun Rights group % of Gun Rights group
2011 – 2012 6,497,290,010 26,847,985 0.41% 36,494,621 0.56%
2013 – 2014 5,221,747,247 34,777,050 0.67% 58,897,370 1.13%
2015 – 2016 7,288,296,554 62,283,772 0.85% 83,650,643 1.15%
2017 – 2018 (24 July) 4,750,139,218 9,447,414 0.20% 21,098,068 0.44%

Note that most of the Gun rights group’s spending are directed towards the Republicans, and also the Republicans generally raises less money than the Democrats.

Thus, I can conclude that :

  1. NRA’s spending is around 0.2%-0.85% for all political spending and adds to more than 0.4%-1.7% of Republicans’ coffer.
  2. Gun Rights group’s spending is around 0.44%-1.15% for all political spending and adds to more than 0.88%-2.3% of Republicans’ coffer.

2.3% of funding is certainly a big deal for the GOP. In my opinion however, it is a bit far-fetched to assume that the NRA or the Gun Rights group has a big control over the GOP due to their funding support.

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Sectoral Comparison

To further nail the point home, let’s take a look at how big the Gun Rights group political spending compared to other big businesses.

Here are some of the top spenders.

2012-2011 2014-2013 2016-2015 2018-2017 Total
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products 525,661,379 489,049,695 551,215,680 458,675,210 2,024,601,964
Insurance 383,116,725 365,597,794 406,050,967 282,538,108 1,437,303,594
Real Estate 329,333,726 308,051,214 441,257,769 267,308,184 1,345,950,893
Oil & Gas 372,164,833 350,536,666 351,854,427 242,141,753 1,316,697,679
Electronics Manufacturing & Equipment 315,026,718 279,218,224 336,952,312 253,413,659 1,184,610,913
Business Associations 322,625,975 315,886,931 318,407,509 213,193,795 1,170,114,210
Electric Utilities 313,903,933 270,833,477 260,553,027 194,005,459 1,039,295,896
Gun rights group 36,494,621 58,897,370 83,650,643 21,098,068 200,140,702

 

It’s funny that some people view the Gun Rights group as the most evil lobbyists while our healthcare bills rise through the roof. Considering how much the big pharma spent, how do you think they will recuperate their costs?
 

Alternative explanation of the NRA’s influence

The truth remains, that the NRA and the Gun Rights group do seem to have their ways regarding gun laws. Here are some possible alternative explanation :

  1. NRA and the Gun Rights group have the ability to mobilize and excite huge numbers of voters. And this amount to much more than just monetary contributions.
  2. Since the U.S. is a democratic country, laws that stay mean that they are supported by the majority of people.
  3. Gun Control group has few support, financially and politically, as one can conclude from their political spending.

 

Conclusion

The NRA (18th Top Spender during 2011- 24 July 2018) and the Gun Rights group are a major part of the Republicans funding (>2% in some period). But they shouldn’t be deemed as “having GOP’s balls in a money clip”.

Also, the Gun Rights group outspend the Gun Control group by a wide margin (3.5x – 51.4x).

The NRA’s influence can also possibly be attributed to the ability to mobilize voters, the general support of gun rights in America and the lack thereof of support for Gun Control.

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