slides: Gun Money’s Influence in Rhode Island
Saturday, December 14, 2013
But the vast majority of all direct contributions supported gun rights and went toward candidates for state office. In the most recent election cycle, financial disclosure reports tally $229,650 in contributions to Ocean State candidate coffers by the National Rifle Association.
“How the gun lobby works is they're able to be influential with a few key legislators,” said Maureen Moakley, a University of Rhode Island professor of political science.
“They're able to control the dialogue,” despite majority public support for regulations, Moakley said, “and they're able to exert influence that way,” through local and well-known members of the legislature.
By the numbers
Guns fuel big money in politics, even in a state with comparatively high regulation and a legislature dominated by one party like Rhode Island. A combined $254,819 was reported in direct contributions during and after the 2011-12 election cycle.
Those numbers are a compilation by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation using source data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money In State Politics.
But convoluted campaign finance law doesn't limit or require the disclosure of all types of political spending, meaning the total sum is greater.
The latest data includes political contributions reported during the 2011-12 election cycle and through some of 2013. The money went toward candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs), but not independent or so-called “super PACs”.
In Rhode Island, $5,612 in support of gun rights went toward federal candidates, while $19,557 was donated toward federal candidates by groups in favor of gun control.
Nationwide, the NRA hands out the most: In the 2011-12 cycle, they reported $1,599,951 in direct contributions across the country, $5,885,000 in lobbying, and a whopping $19,767,043 in outside spending. The Center for Responsive Politics, which reports those figures, calls the NRA a “heavy hitter” as one of the 140 biggest overall donors in federal elections.
Exeter recall election today
Today, Saturday, Dec. 14, makes the one-year anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and it's also the scheduled date for a local recall election in Exeter, where four town councilors could be unseated.
The vote follows a council action that requested a change to how concealed carry permits are issued in the town, by the clerk's office as opposed to local police department, as is the case in all other towns. The four Democratic councilors asked the General Assembly to hand the task, background checks included, to the state attorney general's office. (Exeter has no police force and the change didn't occur.)
A petition drive was launched with the backing of a Political Action Committee, “We The People of Exeter,” supported by the Rhode Island Firearm Owners League.
What was initially a question of gun permitting was sold to the small town as an issue of “local control” according to Moakley.
“It will be curious to see how many people turnout,” she said, after petitioners “turned the issue from guns, which I don't think would have garnered support, into an issue of local control.”
Brian Bishop, a spokesperson for We the People, agreed the debate wasn't “merely a firearms issue.”
“We viewed the actions of the town council resolution as taking away the rights of Exeter citizens and surrendering our local powers to the state,” Bishop said in an October release.
A PAC opposed to the recall election, “Save Exeter,” formed later in October. Because of disclosure filing deadlines, the total spent by either committee — and their respective funding sources — won't be known until after the election.
Rhode Island did enact laws in 2013 that strengthened gun regulations, including H. 5286/S. 455, making it unlawful for any person to receive, transport, or possess any firearm which has had any maker, model, manufacturer's number, or other mark of identification removed, altered, or obliterated. Another, H. 5992/S. 862, creates a Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force to review and make recommendations for statutes relating to firearms and behavioral health issues.
Following the Newtown shooting last year, Connecticut approved new restrictions on high capacity magazines, expanded background checks, and toughened an assault weapons ban in April.
While efforts toward new gun regulations faltered at the federal level by the beginning of the year, eight states enacted new, substantial laws. Thirteen more passed smaller reforms.
Activity in state legislatures was not solely focused on tighter regulation, however; an April review of 1,500 bills by the Sunlight Foundation found a nearly even split between the number of proposed bills that would further regulate guns and bills designed to extend or defend gun rights.
Ranking states' laws
Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island were among the states with the strongest gun laws in the nation according to a Dec. 9 report by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization in support of gun regulation.
In state by state scorecards from the law center, based on a review of state laws in 30 different firearms-related policy areas, Massachusetts ranked 6 th in the nation and earned a “B+” grade. In 2010, the state had the second lowest number of gun deaths per capita.
Rhode Island ranked 9th, earning a grade of “B-”. In 2010, the state had the third lowest number of gun deaths per capita.
California topped the rankings.
Elsewhere in New England, Connecticut took the 2nd place spot with an “A-”, New Hampshire was 23rd with a “D-”, and Maine and Vermont were among the 25 states earning an “F”, ranked at 27th and 46th, respectively.
The Influence of Gun Money in New England States
New Data from The Sunlight Foundation shows state-by-state breakdowns for donations to groups on both sides of the gun debate. The money went toward candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs), but doesn't include donations to independent or so-called “super PACs”.
See how much money went to candidates in each of the New England States in the slides below.
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