The National Rifle Association has spent more money trying to elect Donald Trump president and maintain Republican control of Congress than it has on any other election in history.
As of Tuesday, the NRA had poured $36.3 million into the 2016 election, breaking its own record of $31.7 million from just two years before, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Almost all of that money is devoted to independent expenditures, a bucket term for fliers, postcards, and television advertisements supporting or opposing candidates in federal elections, but not given directly to a campaign.
The blitz cements the NRA’s status as a key cog in Republican electoral efforts. This cycle, it has paid out more than any other conservative group aside from three Super PACs formed to back GOP presidential candidates.
The NRA’s spending on elections has soared since 2010, when the Supreme Court lifted a cap on election spending by outside groups. The surge has coincided with a shift in the group’s political alignment, from an organization that largely supported Republican candidates to one that nearly exclusively backs the GOP.
The increased allocations come mostly on the presidential race. Through October 11, the NRA had spent $12 million attacking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and $9.6 million backing Trump. That’s far more than the $13.6 million the group spent on the entire 2012 presidential race.
The NRA has portrayed Clinton as an existential threat to gun rights. The group argues she would nominate Supreme Court justices “who will overturn” the Second Amendment.
In down-ballot races, the group has spent $4.5 million on the North Carolina Senate race, about 90 percent of that attacking Democrat Deborah Ross, who is in a tight contest with incumbent Republican Richard Burr. The group has spent more than $2 million on Ohio’s Senate race, and between $1.5 million and $2 million on contested races in Nevada, Florida, Missouri, and Indiana.
But the organization is a conspicuously minor player in other contests that could determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years. In Wisconsin, it has spent less than $300,000 to back Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, who pollsters expect to lose to former Senator Russ Feingold. The NRA has spent nothing to support Kelly Ayotte, a Republican senator from New Hampshire, who has faced millions of dollars in negative ads hitting her for opposing the so-called Manchin-Toomey universal background check bill in 2013, along with other gun safety votes.
The NRA has also stayed out of the Pennsylvania Senate race, where Republican Pat Toomey, coauthor of that background check bill, is receiving help from gun safety groups in his tough reelection fight. Similarly, the NRA has steered clear of Illinois, where Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who has often voted with Democrats on guns, appears headed for defeat against Representative Tammy Duckworth, who also backs stronger gun laws.