Stand Back: NRA’s PAC is Loaded as Convention Begins

  • submit to reddit
Sarah Palin campaigning at Anchorage, Alaska for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the primary election Tuesday, August 22, 2006. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Former Alaska governor and GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin will be one of the main attractions at the National Rifle Association's convention. File photo. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)

This post originally appeared at Open Secrets Blog.

The National Rifle Association’s annual convention kicks off today in Indianapolis and a lavish spectacle it will be — celebrities, rallies and loads of firearms.

Less obvious will be the plump PAC account the group is sitting on. According to the latest campaign finance filings, the NRA Political Victory Fund has amassed about $14.1 million.*

The only groups that have more cash are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee — both party organs — and the Service Employees International Union, which reported having $16.4 million in cash on hand. The next closest group involved in the gun debate is former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ pro-gun control organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC that reported having $7.6 million as of March 31.

Of course, $14.1 million is a fraction of the $50 million that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged to spend promoting gun control. But the NRA is well-armed for this election — and the PAC filing doesn’t include whatever the group may want to spend from its 501(c)(4) arm, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money without ever disclosing donors’ names to the public.

The NRA may be on track to raise and spend more than ever before.

In fact, the NRA may be on track to raise and spend more than ever before. The most the group’s PAC has raised in one cycle was $17.9 million in the 2000 election, according to an OpenSecrets Blog analysis. With nine months remaining in this cycle, the PAC has already raised $14.8 and has raised more than $1 million in numerous months.

The PAC has already given $246,000 to federal candidates and committees — 95 percent of it to Republicans. Clearly, though, there’s far more to come: The PAC gave away $987,000 in 2012 and $1.2 million in 2010.

It’s also likely to make some major independent expenditures — spending that supports (or attacks) a candidate explicitly but isn’t coordinated with his or her campaign. So far this cycle, the group has spent just $240,000 on independent expenditures, but in the 2012 cycle it spent $11.1 million and in the 2010 cycle, $7.1 million.

In other words, with seven months remaining before this year’s election, the NRA has barely begun to fight. And fight is a key word. In 2012, the bulk of its independent expenditures — $8.6 million — was spent attacking Democrats, with just $2.3 million going to support GOP candidates.

The group is sitting pretty in other ways, as well: Currently, Congress isn’t seriously considering a renewed assault weapons ban or expanded background checks, two measures that received legislative attention after the Sandy Hook killings of December 2012 and other shootings. Both proposals went down to defeat in the Senate a year ago.

One of the main attractions at the NRA’s annual confab will be an appearance by former Alaska governor and GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Though Palin is not running for elected office (at least not yet), her leadership PAC, SarahPAC, is alive and well. So far this cycle it has raised $1.6 million; it has spent nearly the same amount, though more than half of that went for fundraising — only $10,000 was given to candidates. But SarahPAC still has $1 million in the bank.

*Note: There appears to be an error in the NRA’s latest filing, which indicates the PAC has just over $1 million on hand. In the previous month, however, it reported having $13.2 million in the bank. OpenSecrets Blog determined the NRA’s current cash on hand by adding April revenues to that figure and subtracting April expenditures. We attempted to contact the PAC’s treasurer for an explanation but our messages were not returned.

Russ Choma joined the Center for Responsive Politics in March 2012 as the money-in-politics reporter. He has a background in investigative journalism, having worked as a reporter for the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. He spent five years as a newspaper reporter in New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @russchoma.
  • submit to reddit