Money and Democracy

Published — July 23, 2013 Updated — May 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm ET

Pro-gun group dramatically ups influence spending

Immigration reformers also spent big in second quarter


Key opponents of gun control and proponents of immigration reform invested unprecedented amounts lobbying Congress this spring, bucking a downward trend among many of the nation’s largest companies and nonprofits,newly released records show.

The Virginia-based National Association for Gun Rights spent more than $3 million from April through June to advocate against dozens of firearm-related bills and amendments. That’s nearly four times the second-quarter lobbying expenditures of the better-known National Rifle Association, which itself spent a near-record $840,000 during the year’s second quarter.

The Virginia group is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. It did not lobby prior to this year and does not reveal its donors. The organization has accounted for about $5 million in federal lobbying spending from January through June, ranking it above or alongside major spenders like Shell Oil Co., America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Bankers Association and tobacco company Altria Group, among others.

On the other side of the gun rights argument is the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund, led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The group spent $580,000 on lobbying last quarter — easily twice what it’s spent compared to any other quarter.

Another 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the liberal Advocacy Fund of San Francisco spent about $2.2 million to exclusively press Congress on “comprehensive immigration reform,” federal filings show.

The group, which also does not reveal its donors, spent just $10,331 on federal lobbying during the year’s first quarter and hadn’t spent more than $490,000 for any quarter ever, according to congressional disclosures.

In addition to direct lobbying, the Advocacy Fund supports a variety of left-leaning organizations that, for example, support gay rights and oppose the death penalty, according to its most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service. It describes itself as a group that “enables progressive donors and activists to impact the legislative arena by providing a legal and fiscal home to those advocating for social change.”

Neither the National Association for Gun Rights nor the Advocacy Fund returned a call seeking comment.

(Update, 7:26 p.m.: In an email, National Association for Gun Rights spokeswoman Danielle Thompson said her organization will continue this year to “be a thorn in the side of senators who seem to ride the fence on this issue” and “spend whatever we believe it takes during the remainder of this year to make sure no new federal gun control becomes law.” She declined to discuss the organization’s funding, but priased the “grassroots efforts of our members and supporters” for helping defeat all major gun control proposals in Congress this year.)

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The organizations were anomalies during a period of congressional gridlock.

In all, about two-thirds of the nation’s top 100 lobbying spenders spent less on federal lobbying this past quarter than they did one year ago, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of congressional disclosure reports and Center for Responsive Politics data indicates.

About three-fifths, meanwhile, spent less during the year’s second quarter than they did during the first quarter, the analysis shows.

A list of those spending less is a who’s who of Capitol Hill heavies. It includes General Electric, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Google, Coca-Cola, the American Medical Association, Verizon Communications, drug maker Pfizer and defense firm Northrop Grumman.

Even Facebook, which during the year’s first quarter had surged to its highest level of lobbying spending — $2.45 million — barely cracked the $1 million mark in the second quarter.

Overall, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (more than $19 million, including affiliates) and the National Association of Realtors ($9.1 million) ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in lobbying spending during the year’s second quarter, slightly increasing their expenditures from the year’s first quarter but spending less than they did this time last year.

The U.S. Chamber routinely tops the list in part because it opts to disclose state- and grassroots-level lobbying (and sometimes political organizing) costs alongside federally focused efforts.

Like the Advocacy Fund, the U.S. Chamber vaulted immigration reform to the top of its second quarter agenda, albeit for decidedly pro-business reasons.

The U.S. Chamber will “continue to educate member of Congress on the importance of reform,” spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said, noting that a major advertising campaign prior to the Senate’s successful vote last month on immigration reform factored into its second quarter lobbying figures.

The campaign focused on Republicans who support reform measures. The House is now taking up immigration reform.

A few notable groups and companies did post larger second quarter lobbying expenditures than this year’s first quarter and last year’s second quarter.

Among them are Comcast Corp. ($5.5 million), the National Cable & Telecommunications Association ($4.7 million), Koch Industries ($3.2 million), FedEx Corp. ($3.1 million), Microsoft ($3 million), Wal-Mart Stores ($2 million) and defense contractors General Dynamics ($3.2 million) and Raytheon Co. ($2 million).

Many of them, too, included immigration reform among their wide-ranging government influence efforts.

One reason for the spending nosedive is spending cuts known as sequestration, noted Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which analyzes political spending.

Companies and interest groups that fought previously to preserve government contracts or programs aren’t doing so now, at least not at the same levels, he explained.

Longer term, there’s been a trend toward some government influencers not disclosing their political activities as “lobbying,” at least as defined by federal law.

Since 2010, when federal lobbying spending peaked at $3.55 billion, annual expenditures have been dropping.

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