Thursday, October 5, 2017

Annals of Derp: Does the NRA buy influence?

Marco Rubio chomps on a moneyburger, as Mr. Adelson and Mr. Koch look on benignly, via Cuban Insider.

According to Mr. Bret Stephens:
The National Rifle Association does not have Republican “balls in a money clip,” as Jimmy Kimmel put it the other night. The N.R.A. has donated a paltry $3,533,294 to all current members of Congress since 1998, according to The Washington Post, equivalent to about three months of Kimmel’s salary. The N.R.A. doesn’t need to buy influence: It’s powerful because it’s popular.
That's funny, Bret, because according to, writing last November, the NRA spent $3.2 million on Marco Rubio's 2016 Senate race alone:

This election cycle, the NRA spent more than $52 million—a number that will rise as final campaign finance figures are tallied — to carry on its effort to increase Republican control of government, a mission that has ramped up since theCitizen’s United decision in 2010, when the Supreme Court removed caps on independent expenditures. The sum is by far the greatest in the organization’s history, smashing its previous record, of $31.7 million, set in 2014.

Is somebody not telling the truth here? Well, of course not! How could you even suggest such a thing? It's just that Mr. Bret is telling it ever so slightly selectively, is the thing.

Namely, his Washington Post source lists direct contributions to the candidates' campaigns, which are limited by federal law, for an organization like the NRA, to $5000 per candidate per year. That $3.5 million they donated to congressional campaigns over the past 20 years could represent maximum donations to 700 campaigns, or 70 campaigns every election year, but that's not all they do. The number does not list the unlimited expenditures an organization like the NRA can make independently (wink wink) of the campaign, especially buying ads, which is what tells that different story. And it's immensely different.

The NRA was huge last year, in the presidential race in particular,
owing to the fact that many super PACs, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads GPS, which spent roughly $115 million to elect Mitt Romney in 2012, declined to back Trump. The NRA stepped in to fill the void, putting at least $30.3 million on the line to help elect the real estate mogul, more than any other outside group — including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.
They spent extra little on the House, because they understood Republican control of the House was safe, and focused its Senate activities on six crucial candidates:
In North Carolina, the group spent $6.2 million on the incumbent Republican Senator Richard Burr, the most it has ever invested in a down-ballot race. Burr won by about six percentage points. Elsewhere, the NRA helped elect Senators Marco Rubio in Florida; Roy Blunt in Missouri; Todd Young in Indiana; and Rob Portman in Ohio. It spent between $2 million and $3.2 million on each of those races.
The NRA buys influence in bulk. They buy so much influence they can give some to their relatives for Christmas. Though they don't buy as much from your individual congresscritter as from the party organization that never (wink wink) discusses with them where they'd like the money to go. I love that Jimmy Kimmel understands this better than that debonair, ever-so-educated Mr. Bret.

I agree with Stephens that dumping the Second Amendment from the Constitution would be an overall positive, although I'd be contented with the Supreme Court overturning Scalia's insane ruling in Heller (2007) treating 14 of the Amendment's 27 words as a magical invocation disconnected from all human existence. Stephens alleges that gunsense supporters
argue their case badly and — let’s face it — in bad faith. Democratic politicians routinely profess their fidelity to the Second Amendment — or rather, “a nuanced reading” of it — with all the conviction of Barack Obama’s support for traditional marriage, circa 2008. People recognize lip service for what it is.
I love how Mr. Bret throws around accusations of bad faith after the trick he's pulled on the question of NRA political contributions here

But it's not particularly "nuanced" to accept the thing in the reading that prevailed for two centuries, before Scalia took his hermeneutic razor to it, as Justice John Paul Stevens explained to Wapo in April 2014
For more than 200 years following the adoption of that amendment, federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by that text was limited in two ways: First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated Militia.”
When I joined the court in 1975, that holding was generally understood as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything....
Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” Burger himself remarked that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” 
Mr. Bret Stephens is stupid, folks.

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