NRA Spent Record Amount Lobbying Congress, With Little to Show

(Bloomberg) -- The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Washington, did little to advance its agenda over the past two years even with a gun-friendly president in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress.

The group spent a record $9.6 million lobbying lawmakers and federal agencies over the last two years, federal disclosures show, up from $5.9 million the previous two years.

Yet it had few legislative victories to show for its efforts. None of its top five bills was signed into law. And now that Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives, the NRA will likely be playing defense for the next two years.

The lack of legislative results comes after the organization also saw a 15 percent drop in revenue, which declined to $312 million in 2017 from $367 million in 2016, the NRA’s most recent tax filing shows. The fundraising slump could be linked to a sense of complacency coming from having Republicans controlling Washington, membership recruiters say.

The NRA also wielded a smaller purse in the 2018 midterm elections: The group and its political arm spent just $10 million, a 64 percent drop from the $28 million it contributed to races in 2014 and a fraction of the $55.6 million it spent in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump and other Republicans.

The NRA declined to comment.

Campaign Promises

Democrats now may have enough votes in the House to pass bills with new restrictions on firearms. At least 40 Democratic House freshmen campaigned in part on gun-safety measures, ranging from funding public health studies of gun violence to banning assault weapons.

Newcomers who promised action on the issue are joining prominent incumbents in making gun control a priority. (Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is a donor to candidates and groups that support gun control, including Everytown for Gun Safety.)

NRA Spent Record Amount Lobbying Congress, With Little to Show

Already, House Democrats have backed up campaign promises to address gun violence by scheduling for Wednesday the first congressional hearings in eight years on the topic. “We will make sure that people’s stories are heard and that common-sense proposals that are consistent with the Constitution move forward,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that will hold the hearing.

Gun control may not gain traction in the Senate, where supporters lost ground. Two Republican challengers backed by the NRA increased the GOP’s presence in the chamber to 53 seats.

The group’s final lobbying report of 2018 shows it sought to influence the course of 273 bills, ranging from legislation expanding gun rights to measures amending the Endangered Species Act to spending bills. Its biggest victories include an act that makes records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, more comprehensive. That measure requires, for example, that military convictions be reported to the system.

The group also got an item in a spending bill authorizing the U.S. Defense Department to sell to civilians thousands of surplus pistols slated for destruction.

Biggest Outlay

The NRA’s biggest outlay last year came in the third quarter, during the contentious battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, when it spent $2.1 million. Preserving the court’s 5-4 conservative majority means that previous decisions upholding an individual’s right to bear arms will likely stand.

In January, the high court agreed to hear a case challenging a New York City regulation that sharply limits where licensed handguns may be taken. The court could expand gun-ownership rights for the first time since its landmark 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down a handgun-possession ban.

The gun group’s congressional priorities, posted on the website of the Institute for Legislative Action, its lobbying arm, included bills to make states honor concealed-carry permits issued by other jurisdictions and to eliminate restrictions on the sale of suppressors, which reduce the sound guns make when they’re fired.

The suppressor legislation failed in the House, while the concealed-carry measure never made it out of the Senate. “They had an ambitious agenda that they didn’t deliver on,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The measures may have been undermined by the public reaction to a series of mass shootings. These included the murder by one gunman of 58 people and the injuring of more than 800 others attending a concert in Las Vegas in October 2017, and the February 2018 shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.

Wednesday’s hearing will open the floodgates to new proposals, Raskin said. Those will include measures the group has long opposed, like universal background checks.

The NRA could be spending much of its lobbying dollars blocking legislation in the coming years. But if the past is any guide, the stronger the threat of new restrictions, the more the NRA’s revenue from membership dues and donations are likely to climb.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.