On Thursday evening, late night talk show host and self-appointed member of the intellectual set Jimmy Kimmel tore into the NRA after another mass shooting at a school. In tears, he said, “Somewhere along the line, these guys forgot they work for us. Not the NRA. Us. And this time, we’re not going to allow you to bow your head in prayer for two weeks, until you get it all clear and you move on to the next thing. We’re going to make sure you do something this time.”
That’s no shock — Kimmel has targeted the NRA before. Immediately after the shooting, he tweeted, “It is too late to not politicize school shootings. We see you, NRA-supported US Representatives. And we're f***ng coming for you on election day.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post ran a headline spotlighting the NRA in fully activist fashion: “Have your representatives in Congress received donations from the NRA?”
Actor and director Rob Reiner chimed in similarly:
So, does the NRA buy politicians?
There are two real questions to be answered in answering that one: first, does the NRA really spend an outsized amount of money on politics? Second, as a general matter, do outside organizations “buy” the support of politicians, or do they simply support politicians with whom they agree?
On the first question, between 1998 and 2016, the NRA spent approximately $13 million on all candidates, parties, and leadership political action committees, according to the Left’s favorite fact-checker, Politifact. The NRA also spends money on “outside expenditures,” meaning ads they cut themselves, for example, in the amount of $144.3 million, plus another $45.9 million on lobbying. That’s a grand total of $203.2 million on political activities over 18 years, or approximately $22.6 million per 2-year election cycle. The NRA spends far more in presidential years than non-presidential years — according to OpenSecrets, the NRA spent some $54.4 million in 2016 on politics.
Let’s look at some other political actors, by way of contrast.
According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, labor unions spent $1.713 billion on political activities and lobbying for the 2016 election cycle alone. That’s not unusual: they also spent $2.2 billion on political activities in 2008 and 2010, and $1.69 billion in 2012.
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion mill, spent $33.9 million on outside spending from the 2012 through 2016 election cycles, according to OpenSecrets. EMILY’s List, another abortion group, spent $33.2 million on politics in 2016. NextGen Climate Action, a leftist group pushing climate change legislation, spent $22.9 million.
In other words, lots of groups spend lots of money — but the notion that the NRA is disproportionately “buying” politicians is asinine.
Which brings us to the second question: is the NRA actually even “buying” anyone? The answer here is obviously no. The NRA isn’t paying politicians off to change their positions anymore than Planned Parenthood is doing so. There’s a reason the NRA supports pro-gun candidates and Planned Parenthood supports pro-abortion candidates. They pick the candidates who support their agenda and support them. They don’t go around offering cash in briefcases in order to convince those who disagree to go along with their agenda.
The NRA, in reality, is a powerful lobbying organization because a huge number of Americans agree with their agenda. Most gun-owners, even if they aren’t members, see the NRA as a vital organization in defending their Second Amendment rights. Congress isn’t beholden to the NRA — it’s beholden to its own constituents, many of whom support the NRA’s belief system as a general matter.