Examination by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence of spending by the National Rifle Association in the 2012 elections showed that, of the $11.8 million spent to defeat President Obama and $3.4 million across six key Senate races—88 percent of its federal independent expenditures—the gun lobby could claim no victories; all of its candidates lost. This evidence that the association’s ability to influence elections may be exaggerated should stiffen the spines of Mr. Obama and congressional leaders to take on this important issue—before another person touched by gun violence has to stand up in court to offer words about the horrors of loss.In fact, when you look at all of the NRA’s endorsed federal candidates, the gun lobby won only 45 percent of Senate races and 83.6 percent of House races. Compare that to congressional candidates endorsed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, who won 83.3 percent of Senate races and 92 percent of House races. There is some overlap as both groups tend to endorse large numbers of incumbents, and not all the races were competitive—but it’s the third election cycle in a row, regardless of whether there were gains by Democrats or Republicans, in which the pro-animal endorsement muzzled the pro-gun endorsement.
The most important comparison, perhaps, lies in the 34 races where the NRA and HSLF went head-to-head and endorsed opposing candidates. Both groups generally throw their weight behind candidates who are viable, so these were all competitive contests, and some were decided by very narrow margins. Of these races, HSLF won 27 and NRA won only seven—meaning HSLF was the victor 79.4 percent of the time to the NRA’s 20.6 percent. In four out of every five races, the HSLF candidate edged out the NRA candidate.
HSLF went seven for nine in the head-to-head Senate match-ups, winning in Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin—some of which would typically be considered strong NRA states where the group spent collectively more than $2.3 million on independent expenditures—for an HSLF win rate of 77.8 percent. And on the House side, HSLF won 20 contests and the NRA five, for an HSLF win rate of 80 percent. The winners included strong animal protection supporters like Reps. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., returning Reps. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and a leading animal advocate from the Arizona state legislature, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., each of whom the NRA spent thousands of dollars trying to defeat.
The fact that the NRA spent millions of dollars on elections without much to show for it, and continues to trail behind HSLF on election outcomes, demonstrates that the NRA’s political influence is not only overstated, but is evaporating. Lawmakers who continue to fear the gun group and romanticize its political prowess have simply favored mythology over effectiveness. This isn’t a revelation for us, because we’ve faced off against the NRA in statewide ballot initiatives, and have typically prevailed, even in some of the biggest hunting states in the country, on practices such as hounding and baiting of bears and cougars, steel-jawed leghold traps, and mourning dove hunting, and on blocking the NRA’s attempts to prevent future ballot measures on wildlife protection.
Lawmakers haven’t yet caught up to the voters, and this has been on full display in the Senate lately as both Democrats and Republicans have been falling all over themselves to pass an NRA grab bag—the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” S. 3525, to allow imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies, prevent restrictions on toxic lead ammunition, and usher in other anti-wildlife policies. Fortunately, the bill hit a roadblock last night when it failed to get 60 votes on a procedural motion; it will likely be back in the lame-duck session.
The NRA continues to push extreme policies like polar bear trophy hunting and poisoning our environment with toxic lead, and to oppose common-sense restrictions on inhumane and unsporting practices such as canned hunts, baiting and hounding of bears, aerial gunning of wolves, and even poaching. The group puts its loyalists in a political box, and it seems that lawmakers who demonstrate their fealty to the NRA rarely even benefit in the end. This election cycle is one more example of the NRA’s message having limited appeal to core ideologues, while HSLF’s message of protecting animals from cruelty and abuse has a universal reach with mainstream constituencies, including swing voters who will be critical to both parties in tough races.