NRA power and money goes a long way in states

December 20, 2012: 6:01 PM ET
nra gun lobbying
Gun laws in many states have expanded due to NRA lobbying. A selection of AR-15 style rifles for sale at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store in Tinley Park, Illinois.
WASHINGTON (CNNMoney)

When Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker fought off a tough recall effort earlier this year, he did so with the National Rifle Association's political backing and money, thanks to his work expanding gun rights in the state.

The NRA, the most well-known gun rights advocate and lobbying group, is in the spotlight following last week's shootings at the elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults.

Since then, there's been a public outcry to curb gun ownership. President Obama has tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to produce proposals on gun law reform within weeks.

The NRA has also scheduled a news conference on Friday saying in a statement it is "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

The NRA's clout in Washington is well known. With its ability to mobilize 4 million members to the polls, the NRA has garnered big victories on gun rights at the federal level.

Much of gun regulation, however, happens at the state level, where the NRA wields even more power, especially in parts of the country with large populations of registered hunters and gun users.

The NRA and its campaign arm, the Political Victory Fund, have given nearly $3 million to state-level campaigns, political committees, and candidates over the past nine years, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a watchdog group. That doesn't include hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lobbying various state legislatures in the same period.

The money has helped win owners expanded rights to carry guns outside of their home in 41 states, more than double the number from two decades ago.

Also, just in the last seven years, the NRA reports some 30 states have adopted a version of the "stand your ground" law where gun owners can use "deadly force" to defend themselves when they feel threatened.

The NRA, which has kept a low profile since the shootings, didn't return a request for comment.

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"For a lawmaker in any legislature, the reward of supporting gun rights is you get money and support from the NRA -- and there are no penalties," said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow with the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. "If you take on the gun lobby, there are only penalties."

In Tennessee, for instance, the NRA spent thousands of dollars on a campaign this year to defeat state House Republican Debra Maggart, who defied the gun lobby by siding with business groups to block a bill that would have allowed employees to carry guns in workplace parking lots.

The NRA gave $8,000 directly to Maggart's opponent, according the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Along with a state gun lobby group, the NRA ran full page newspaper ads and a highway billboard blasting Maggart, by comparing her to President Obama, who has few fans in the state.

"They flooded the district with photos of me shredding a constitution," said Maggart. "It was a serious assault, and it had serious impact. I lost."

In Wisconsin, the NRA spent nearly $100,000 lobbying the legislature in 2011 to expand gun rights, according to that state's Government Accountability Board.

Wisconsin campaign finance records show that the NRA gave $10,000 in January to fight the recall effort of Republican Gov. Walker. The group officially endorsed him "because of his unapologetic support of our rights."

Florida was the first state to adopt the "stand your ground" law, which gained a lot of attention after the high profile shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The NRA has given tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans who control the state legislature as well as Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

In 2012, the NRA spent $133,000 on direct mail, phone banks and email alerts to sway voters, according to Florida campaign finance records. The NRA has given the Florida Republican Party $125,000 since 2004, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

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