“Every woman has the right to defend herself with a gun, if she chooses,” says Kristi McMains, speaking directly to the camera in a recent campaign ad. “Hillary Clinton disagrees with that. Don’t let politicians take away your right to own a gun.”
The 26-year-old Indiana woman is the star of a spot paid for by the nation’s largest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association. She describes how she fended off an attacker with the aid of a pistol.
Aware that women voters will play a pivotal role in the 2016 presidential election, the NRA has been targeting them with a deluge of political ads critical of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The NRA — through both its lobbying arm and political action committee — has now aired more than 10,800 TV ads since late June attacking Clinton or praising Republican Donald Trump, whom the group endorsed in May.
That amounts to about 16 percent of all TV ads aired during the general election by Trump’s campaign and his allies, according to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity by ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG. Trump’s own campaign has aired about 43,100 TV ads since the primaries ended in June.
In another ad the gun group has been regularly airing in battleground states, an actress awakes, runs across her bedroom and then calls the police while opening a gun safe as a thief breaks into her home. A narrator then implores: “Don’t let Hillary leave you protected with nothing but a phone.”
The bulk of the NRA’s ads have targeted voters in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
In October alone, about one of every 20 TV ads in Pennsylvania has been sponsored by the NRA, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data. Meanwhile, the NRA is behind about one of every nine ads that have aired so far this month in North Carolina. And in Ohio, the organization is responsible for about one of every eight TV ads that have aired so far in October.
The ad’s sponsor
Founded in 1871 by veterans of the Union Army, the NRA now touts itself as “America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights.” The NRA’s lobbying arm — known as the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action — was established in 1975. The group’s PAC is called the NRA Political Victory Fund.
Who’s behind it?
The longtime head of the NRA is Wayne LaPierre, whose official title is executive vice president and CEO. The group’s president is Allan Cors, while Chris W. Cox serves as the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
The men are no fans of Clinton.
According to LaPierre, “There is no greater danger to American liberty and to the security of our nation than a Hillary Clinton administration.”
And Cox, in a July speech at the Republican National Convention, warned that Americans were “on the cusp” of losing the freedom to own firearms.
Meanwhile, Cors has called Trump “a true champion” of gun rights and has said Trump would be “the most pro-Second Amendment president since Ronald Reagan.”
For her part, Clinton, if elected president, has stressed that she’s “not looking to repeal the Second Amendment” or “looking to take people’s guns away.” But she has pledged to “take on the gun lobby” so that guns don’t end up in the “hands of domestic abusers, other violent criminals and the seriously mentally ill.”
Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, told the Center for Public Integrity that “too many families in America have suffered — and continue to suffer — from gun violence.”
He continued: “The gun lobby is coming to Donald Trump’s defense and spending millions of dollars to spread lies about Hillary Clinton because they know Trump will always do their bidding.”
Representatives of the Trump campaign and NRA did not respond to requests for comment.
The NRA Political Victory Fund has raised about $19 million so far this election cycle, according to the PAC’s most recent campaign finance filing with the Federal Election Commission.
More than 86 percent of that sum has come from small-dollar donors who each gave $200 or less.
During the 2011-2012 election cycle, the NRA’s PAC raised $14.4 million, spending about $9 million in the presidential race on ads that either attacked President Barack Obama or praised Republican Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, the NRA’s budget for its Institute for Legislative Action has also increased dramatically in recent years, from about $17 million in 2012 to about $47 million in 2014, according to tax records maintained by CitizenAudit.org. (During the 2012 presidential race, the NRA’s lobbying arm spent about an additional $4 million on ads.)
A significant portion of the NRA’s revenue comes from individual membership dues, but it also counts corporations — including gun manufacturers — among its financial backers.
For instance, gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. has been donating two dollars of every gun sale during 2015 and 2016 to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action — hitting its goal of selling two million guns earlier this summer. And in August, the company announced that it would match up to $5 million in donations to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
Likewise, Smith & Wesson contributed $1 million to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action last year.
So far this year, the NRA — through both its PAC and its Institute for Legislative Action — has spent about $22.6 million on ads in the presidential race, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign finance filings. That’s about 70 percent more than what the organization spent four years ago.
About $12.1 million has been spent on negative ads against Clinton, while about $10.5 million has been spent on ads touting Trump.
Why it matters
The NRA’s advertising blitz has been central to broadcasting pro-Trump messages.
Trump’s own campaign has been greatly outspent by Clinton and her allies. And even the handful of super PACs backing the Republican nominee have also been dwarfed by Clinton’s main super PAC.
The NRA’s ads have also brought to the forefront Second Amendment issues in a contest in which the winner is likely to appoint at least one new justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will shape gun policy for decades to come.
This article was co-published with Philly.com.
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