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NRA campaign funding
(Morguefile.com)
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(Editor’s note: This story was authored by Ben Botkin of Oklahoma Watch and appears here in accordance with the non-profit journalism organization’s republishing terms.)

The NRA often draws attention for its political influence after a mass shooting, such as the one last Wednesday in which 17 people were killed at a Florida school. The incident reawakened questions about whether stricter gun-control laws could prevent such tragedies. Students at the Florida school where the shooting occurred want to create a “badge of shame” for politicians who accept NRA support.

In Oklahoma, it’s no secret that residents strongly support the Second Amendment and their right to own firearms. Because of Oklahoma’s image as a ruby-red Republican stronghold, the state’s politicians receive relatively little in cash from the gun lobby. An Oklahoma Watch check of campaign finance records shows the National Rifle Association spent a mere trickle on Oklahoma politicians.

At least one Oklahoma congressional member, Sen. James Lankford, called for improvements in the background-check system. President Donald Trump signaled a similar position on Monday.

Here’s a look at the amounts of campaign cash given by the NRA to candidates, including incumbents. The relatively low amounts likely reflect the fact that the NRA spends much of its money on competitive races, such as the presidential race, and less on races with more predictable outcomes for candidates who support the NRA.

Legislative candidates

Oklahoma candidates for legislative seats received a total of $4,500 from the NRA in the 2016 elections, filings with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission show. Oklahoma state candidates saw the following contributions from the NRA’s Political Victory Fund in 2016:

The NRA also gave $5,000 to the Committee for the Inauguration of Gov. Mary Fallin in February 2015. In 2016, the organization gave $200 to the Republican State House Committee, which recruits GOP candidates.

Congressional candidates

Nationwide, the NRA donated $18,950 in the 2016 election cycle to Oklahoma U.S. House and Senate candidates, all Republicans, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The amounts:

  • U.S. Rep. James Bridenstine: $2,000
  • U.S. Rep. Tom Cole: $3,000
  • U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas: $2,000
  • U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin: $4,950
  • U.S. Rep. Steve Russell: $2,000 (Russell owns a company that manufactures firearms online.)
  • U.S. Sen Jim Inhofe: $0 (During his most recent campaign, in the 2014 election cycle, he received $9,450.)
  • U.S. Sen. James Lankford: $5,000

That’s just a small slice of the organization’s spending on candidates nationwide. In 2016, the NRA gave $818,150 to congressional candidates, with 99 percent of the contributions going to Republicans, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

So far in the 2018 election cycle, the NRA has donated $1,000 to Lucas and $1,000 to Russell.

Independent expenditures

The organization’s larger spending in politics is through independent expenditures, which don’t directly go to candidates’ campaigns but are spent to help or oppose those running for office. The NRA spent $19.2 million nationwide on independent expenditures in the 2016 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Oklahoma candidates benefited little from that spending. Out of the $19.2 million, just $190 was spent to support one Oklahoma candidate: Mullin. More than $9 million of the independent expenditures went toward the presidential race.

An affiliated group, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, spent $33.3 million during the 2016 elections, none of it on Oklahoma races.

A state political action committee, the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association, filed its first paperwork to operate as a PAC in October 2016 to support “pro-2nd Amendment legislation and candidates,” state filings show.

So far, the organization hasn’t spent any money on Oklahoma candidates.

From mid-October 2016 through the end of 2017, the organization raised $19,804, records show. Its expenditures during that time totaled $12,966, going toward expenses such as website hosting services, Facebook ads and podcast services. The expenditures also included a $291.99 Beretta Nano 9mm pistol from the Palmetto State Armory in Columbia, S.C.

Reach reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@oklahomawatch.org or (702) 418-6089.