The pro-gun group’s grip on the GOP holds tight.
A familiar routine is already playing out after the horrific shooting at an elementary school in Nashville: Politicians are calling for thoughts and prayers, and insisting we must find a way to prevent this unfathomable bloodshed from happening again.
The problem is, many of those elected officials have gotten into their prestigious positions thanks to the gun lobby, and their campaigns have pocketed millions of dollars from groups whose sole purpose is blocking the kind of meaningful legislation that could potentially curb this violence.
Open Secrets, a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit research group that tracks money in U.S. politics, compiled a database of the senators who have taken the most cash from the National Rifle Association as of the 118th Congress. As you’ll see below, the numbers are pretty staggering. Here’s a look at the top 10.
Senators Who Get Funding from the NRA
1. Mitt Romney, Utah: $13,645,387
2. Thom Tillis, North Carolina: $5,611,796
3. Joni Ernst, Iowa: $3,688,078
4. Marco Rubio, Florida: $3,303,355
5. Todd Young, Indiana: $2,902,182
6. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana: $2,864,547
7. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin: $2,624,228
8. Tom Cotton, Arkansas: $1,973,201
9. Ted Budd, North Carolina: $1,828,893
10. Josh Hawley, Missouri: $1,391,548
The database contains information on all the current members of Congress.
Other influential lawmakers made the list: Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has directed much of the GOP’s congressional strategy over the last several years, ranked 11th. According to Open Secrets, McConnell has accepted $1,329,699 from the NRA.
It’s also worth noting that many of these senators are from states that have been seriously affected by mass shootings. Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn came in 12th with $1,306,130.
The NRA occupies an interesting place in the debate about guns in the United States. It’s widely regarded as the most influential firearm-related group in the country, and it spends serious money (an estimated $250 million in 2020 alone), but its membership numbers are murky. Leadership has boasted for many years that the organization has around five million members, but investigations into its tax filings have indicated the total number of members hasn’t been so consistent and likely peaked around 2007.
“It was once the most powerful, most wealthy special interest that’s ever existed, and last year, they attempted to declare bankruptcy and failed,” Watts said. “A lot of really interesting facts about the corruption of the organization became very clear, around misusing its members’ dollars, spending money on lavish vacations and personal wardrobes, spending very little money on training and safety. They are a lobbying organization.”
And yet, even if the NRA is fading, the iron grip of the gun lobby hasn’t loosened. Watts says that’s because NRA talking points have been adopted by — and expanded by — extremists who continue to push the envelope in terms of inserting firearms into the very fabric of American culture.
“Back when I started Moms Demand Action, I think we thought that once we defeated the NRA — and they’re pretty powerless at this point — that we will have won,” Watts said. “And what we have seen is that this extremist agenda has actually been co-opted by right-wing groups in this country, and is part of their own policy platform now, separate from the NRA.”
Despite the NRA’s lingering power, 71 percent of Americans believe gun laws should be tighter — and this includes almost half of Republicans, according to a poll by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.