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.
Generally, there are major 3 parts of money deemed as political spending.
- Contribution – Money given to candidates and/or parties.
- Lobbying Expenses – Money related to lobbying, such as lobbyists fees, communicating expenses, money related to influencing laws, etc..
- 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|
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%|
As you can see, the NRA is a major player, amounting to 45% – 75% of Gun Rights group spending.
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.
- Gun Control VS Gun Rights
- NRA VS individual top spender
- 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|
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).
|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|
|15||Service Employees International Union||4,007,220||65,331,754||31,487,371||49,313,467||150,139,812|
|18||National Rifle Assn||9,447,414||62,283,772||34,777,050||26,847,985||133,356,221|
Fun facts : Planned Parenthood political spending was $54,186,371 during the same period. That’s about 40% of the NRA’s spending.
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 :
- 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.
- 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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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.
|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|
|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 :
- 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.
- Since the U.S. is a democratic country, laws that stay mean that they are supported by the majority of people.
- Gun Control group has few support, financially and politically, as one can conclude from their political spending.
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.