The nation’s most prominent gun control advocacy groups are spending big for 2020, outpacing the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) in what both sides see as a crucial election.
Groups including Brady, Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords, the group formed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), have announced ambitious plans as they aim to capitalize on a successful 2018 midterm cycle that saw a number of gun control advocates elected to Congress. And the moves come at a time when the NRA finds itself reeling from a year of high-profile departures and infighting over allegations of financial misconduct.
Everytown, the group co-founded by Democratic presidential contender and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, alone plans to spend at least $60 million in the 2020 elections, nearly double what the NRA spent in the last presidential contest.
The sister PAC for Brady, the nation’s oldest anti-gun violence advocacy group, gave over $500,000 to candidates in 2019, according to the group. This year they intend to spend more than $3.5 million and invest in 125 House, Senate and state races, focusing in particular on North Carolina and Texas.
“Everything is going to go out. I want to have no gas in the tank after the election,” Brian Lemek, the PAC’s executive director, told The Hill, highlighting the high stakes.
The groups are also fundraising aggressively. Brady PAC raised more than $900,000 last year, according to the group. They already have nearly 100,000 donors giving an average of $12.
Giffords, meanwhile, has already spent more than $500,000 on paid advertising in Colorado alone, where one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republicans, Sen. Cory Gardner, is up for reelection. And the group has already run $750,000 on national advertisements calling for Senate action on gun control, promoted videos with presidential candidates addressing gun violence and held a forum alongside the March for Our Lives anti-violence rally.
The high six-figure spending campaigns highlight the shift in the gun violence debate, where the NRA, the nation’s most prominent gun rights group, had long outspent its adversaries and flexed its clout in Washington. But after a spate of recent mass shootings, gun control groups saw new momentum in 2018 and also last year in Virginia’s state elections.
The Virginia elections saw Democrats taking control of the legislature for the first time in two decades despite the NRA spending a record amount in its home state. The NRA spent about $300,000, while gun control advocacy groups spent nearly $3 million overall.
“We spent more than $30 million during the 2018 midterms and more than $2.5 million to elect a gun sense majority in Virginia’s General Assembly in 2019 — outspending and outmaneuvering the NRA both times,” Andrew Zucker, Everytown’s director of federal and political communications, said.
Peter Ambler, executive director at Giffords, said that in 2018 Giffords and Everytown together outspent the NRA.
Gun control groups say they intend to build on those gains in the presidential election.
“This represents a transformation in the debate over firearms from just a few years ago from a place where the NRA once dominated the politics and the message around guns,” Ambler said.
He added that in addition to spending, the group also plans to have Giffords herself on the campaign trail stumping for pro-gun control candidates.
There are no shortage of high-profile races attracting their attention. In addition to Gardner, gun control groups are also pouring resources into unseating Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who is being challenged by Giffords’s husband, Mark Kelly, among others.
Everytown plans to spend its money across the board, against President Trump, in congressional races and on the state level. The group highlighted Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, many of which will be crucial presidential battlegrounds, as states they are working in.
“In 2020, you’ll see us use our full financial and grassroots power to elect gun sense candidates up and down the ballot, across the country,” Zucker said.
Efforts could get a boost from Bloomberg and Kelly, who are both running for public office after founding the two most prominent gun control groups. Bloomberg, Everytown’s co-founder and largest donor, is seeking the Democratic nomination and has made fighting gun violence a signature issue.
But his role in the race could also be a complication for some groups, with worries he could pull away resources. At least six Everytown employees had moved to Bloomberg’s campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal in November.
Bloomberg is expected to spend $1 billion on his campaign, but Zucker said Everytown’s fundraising will not be impacted and that he would be treated the same as other candidates for endorsements.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a part of Everytown for Gun Safety, also told volunteers their group will treat Bloomberg like other candidates.
Overall in 2018, Everytown spent the most among gun violence groups at $30 million, while Giffords PAC spent nearly $7 million on candidates and the Brady PAC spent nearly $500,000.
The NRA spent more than $862,000 on candidates in 2018 and spent $36 million backing Trump in the 2016 cycle.
Despite turmoil at the NRA, which has seen membership drop and a contentious leadership fight, the group remains a powerful force. And it has strong influence with Trump, who reversed his support for background checks following mass shootings in 2019 after pressure from the NRA.
The NRA said it is also gearing up for the election fight.
“The NRA will be very active in 2020, as we are in every election cycle,” Amy Hunter, the NRA’s director of media relations, told The Hill.
“Unlike Michael Bloomberg, the NRA won’t be pouring billions into the radical groups that are conspiring to steal freedom from other Americans. Our activities in 2020 will be smart, strategic, and reflective of the passion of our members, who turn out to vote. Our opponents cannot say the same,” she added.
The NRA remains a juggernaut. For Republicans in red districts, the group’s clout is undeniable and its endorsement coveted.
The NRA has spent more than $250,000 so far in the 2020 election, and more than $249,000 of that has gone to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Gun control groups who spoke to The Hill said a priority was flipping the Senate, highlighting that the chamber under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) failed to take up a House-passed background checks bill, which is strongly opposed by the NRA.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act is titled H.R. 8 in honor of Giffords, who was shot in 2011 at an event in Tucson, Ariz. The bill passed the House in February in a 240-190 vote with eight Republicans voting for it.
Flipping the Senate is an uphill fight for Democrats and allies this year, but gun control groups have high hopes.
“A little over a year from now, we will see Gabby Giffords standing in the Rose Garden with the next president of the United States, the next majority leader of the Senate, watching signing of universal background checks and other gun safety measures into law,” Ambler predicted.