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National Rifle Association

4 Things We Learned from Poring Over $56 Million in NRA Election Spending

Cue the ominous attack ads!

Of the many dangers that the National Rifle Association says gun owners must fortify themselves against, none pose a more imminent threat than Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

“The Second Amendment is on the ballot this November,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, reminded members at the organization’s annual meeting last week in Louisville, Kentucky. Wayne Lapierre, the group’s top executive, told attendees that this was the election of a lifetime. Should Democrats gain control of the government, he declared, “You can kiss your guns goodbye.” The message was clear: The NRA plans to do everything within its vast means to sway the outcome of races in the fall.

To get the candidates it wants elected, the NRA will seek to mobilize its members, a voting block it claims is five million strong. It will use the pulpit it commands as one of the most influential lobbying groups in the nation to trumpet its message. Also, it will spend lots and lots of money.

Last week, The Trace and the New York Daily News analyzed the NRA’s spending on leaflets, postcards, and ads meant to influence the outcome of an election — known as independent expenditures, the money is separate from the smaller sum given directly to candidates — over the last three election cycles. We found that the gun group’s independent expenditures soared 373 percent from 2010 to 2014. All told, the NRA shelled out $56 million across three cycles.

We wanted to know to where the money was directed, what it was spent on, and whether it achieved the group’s desired outcome.

Here is what we learned.

The NRA is all-in on the GOP.

In 2010, the NRA directed the vast majority of its election money towards backing Republicans and defeating Democrats. Even so, its efforts weren’t completely partisan: That year, NRA spent over $130,000 to support 18 Democrats.

In 2014, the NRA invested roughly five times as much, at least $31.7 million, in independent expenditures. According to Federal Election Commission records, not a single dollar was spent in support of a Democrat.

At this stage in the current election cycle, counting indirect expenditures as well as direct campaign contributions, the organization has deployed almost $1 million in support of GOP candidates. The exception: a lone Democrat, Representative Henry Cueller of Texas, has received a grand total of $1,000.

The NRA is putting more money into fewer races, and its success rate has increased.

In 2010 and 2012, the NRA poured more than $24 million into 161 races. Its preferred candidate won 60 percent of the time.

During the 2014 cycle, the NRA poured invested in 46 federal races — and got its desired result 72 percent of the time.

The NRA invests most of its money in close contests, usually attacking Democrats.

Over the last three election cycles, the NRA has spent the vast majority of its money in “tossup” races, a rating the nonpartisan Cook Political Report uses for highly competitive contests. The NRA’s success in tossups increased from around 40 percent during the 2010 and 2012 cycles, to 81 percent during the 2014 cycle.

In all of those years combined, at least $33.4 million of the NRA’s spending paid for attack ads.

When the NRA clears a certain spending threshold, its candidate always wins.

From 2010 to 2014, NRA spending accounted for 30 percent or more of total independent expenditures in seven races. In one of those, a contest for a House seat in Arkansas, the NRA spent more than $1 million to tank the candidacy of a long-time NRA member named Patrick Henry Hays, whose primary sin appears to have been party affiliation: He is a Democrat.

Hays lost, as did all six other candidates that the NRA spent an outsized sum of money to defeat.

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]