Election Day is here, and the National Rifle Association has spent $23 million on federal races — less than half of the record-shattering total it directed toward electing Donald Trump and a slate of Republicans in 2016. Despite its reduced budget, the gun group was still among the larger political underwriters for the GOP this season, blanketing swing states with anti-Biden ads.
The NRA spent more than $1 million dollars in only one congressional race this year, for the senator representing North Carolina. It’s a dramatic reduction from 2016, when the gun group flooded six races with more than $1 million each. The throttled budget comes as the NRA faces expensive legal challenges brought by the attorneys general of New York and Washington, D.C., stemming from allegations of widespread financial impropriety. While the NRA has been able to mobilize gun owners to donate — it raised more this August than in any single month of 2016 — it’s unclear whether that will translate into electoral wins.
“The NRA’s fundraising is doing very well,” said Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. “On the other side of the coin, they’re spending a lot of money on legal fees that don’t have to do with gun rights. They’re defending themselves. Their money is tied up.”
For the first time, other gun lobbying groups have stepped in to fill that void. Gun Owners of America (GOA), which describes itself as “the only no compromise gun lobby in Washington,” spent around $800,000 this year, more than 10 times as much as it did in 2016. The money was largely spread across a number of smaller House races.
Gun reform groups have begun to flex their muscle in recent elections, and 2020 was no exception. The PAC wing of the gun violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety poured $20 million into federal races, shattering its previous spending totals. In addition to spending nearly $4 million in the North Carolina race for U.S. Senate, Everytown has backed Democratic candidates in several competitive House races in Texas. (Everytown provides grants to The Trace through its nonpolitical arm. Here’s our list of major donors and our policy on editorial independence.)
Giffords, another gun reform group, held back this year, spending $2 million in federal races. “What we’ve always liked to do is invest more in fewer places, so we made big, seven-figure investments in Colorado and North Carolina trying to chip away at the Senate map,” said Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords. “If we are able, with our spending and our advocacy, to help elect those two people, that’s a big chip off the block, and that puts us in a good position to have the majority that we need in 2021.”
Everytown and Giffords outspent the gun lobby for the first time ever during the 2018 midterms, but their spending this year came in around eight percent below the NRA and GOA’s.
In what is by far the most expensive election in American history, this spending may not tip any scales — but it signals the priorities of groups on both sides of the gun issue. The data also doesn’t capture the millions spent in state races that are not tracked by the Federal Election Commission, where smaller sums can wield greater influence. Nor does it include spending like contributions to other PACs.
Below, we’re tracking the results of 17 congressional races — 10 in the Senate and seven in the House — where gun rights or gun reform groups spent six figures or more. We’ll be relying on calls as reported by the Associated Press. Many of these races are among the most hotly contested and expensive of the year. Across the board, the NRA and GOA threw their dollars behind Republican candidates, while Everytown and Giffords backed Democrats.