This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. That tragedy revived the gun control debate, which, as a study released Monday by the Sunlight Foundation shows, led to a massive uptick in federal lobbying—a boon for K Streeters on both sides of the debate.
Both gun-control and gun-rights activists increased political spending in the weeks and months following the Sandy Hook shooting, according to Sunlight. Gun-control groups spent five times more this year than the previous year—approximately $1.6 million versus $240,000, largely thanks New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s non-profit Mayors Against Illegal Guns. It represents the largest outlay by gun-control advocates since 2004, the year of the failed push to renew the federal assault weapons ban.
Yet gun-control groups' spending still pales in comparison to gun-rights groups, which spent nearly seven times as much as their counterparts—about $12.2 million. That figure includes spending by the grassroots National Association for Gun Rights, which claims to be the fastest-growing gun rights group in America but whose numbers, Sunlight says, are "likely inflated because of the way in which that group counts lobbying expenses." Even without NAGR's expenditures, groups such as the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America spent a combined $6.2 million—four times more than the gun-control advocates.
This chart helps explain why gun-control legislation failed in the Senate, and why Congress’ motivation to tackle the issue again is tepid, at best.
And yet, when it comes to advertising, gun-control groups have massively outspent their opponents since Newtown and did win victories in states such as Illinois, where Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC helped defeat pro-gun rights Congressional candidate Debbie Halvorson, and Bloomberg and Americans for Responsible Solutions—a super PAC founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords—ran ads for Virginia governor-elect Terry McAuliffe. The NRA spent money on state campaigns, including in Virginia, but largely stayed away from federal races.
But this may also be the calm before the midterm storm. Both sides are sitting on cash reserves as we head into the 2014 elections. The Sunlight Foundation notes that the NRA PAC has $11.2 million on hand, but spent just $1.4 million in 2013. And thanks in part to Bloomberg, gun-control groups “are heading into 2014 with formidable campaign war chests.”