By their own account, NRA membership totals 5 million, accounting for just 1.5 percent of the U.S. population. Despite this, the NRA, like Planned Parenthood and other interest groups, carries a lot of power.

The NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) is the group’s lobbying arm and in 2017, spent over $5 million in its lobbying efforts. Such lobbying includes opposing assault weapon bans and restricting funding for health-related research that could be deemed to “promote gun control.”

Additionally, the NRA’s influence can be seen in its “grade” system to rate politicians in terms of their positions on gun rights. Candidates often tout their “A+” rating when running for office as it shows they “made a vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment.” An “F” grade is a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights.” Such endorsements, even absent of direct donations, carries a lot of weight.

As for direct donations, those are indeed relatively small – in 2016 the NRA spent just over $1 million in campaign contributions. However, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, political groups can spend much more on outside spending, or “dark money,” that indirectly benefits a favored candidate (or targets an opponent); we saw this in last year’s special election.

In 2016, the NRA spent $23.2 million in outside spending on congressional races, $17 million of which was used against candidates. Like the grades, this works to influence voters, and pro-Second Amendment candidates welcome this outside spending.

To be fair, the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA spent double the amount of the NRA on outside spending. 

Campaign financing information is readily available through the Federal Election Commission and the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. If we want accurate facts stated, then it makes sense to look at the actual filings and recognize that political power goes far beyond simple campaign contributions.

Daniel McGowin