Ashcroft s Ammo

Nov. 3, 2000

Ashcroft s Ammo

NRA Spends Almost $300,000 to Support Missouri Senator

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) received the National Rifle Association s (NRA) single largest contribution to benefit any federal candidate in this election cycle — $25,000 — and his campaign has been bolstered by nearly $300,000 the NRA spent to back his re-election, Public Citizen has found.

“Senator Ashcroft may be the NRA’s best friend in Washington, D.C.,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “How else can you explain the NRA s largesse? They arm Ashcroft, and he hits his target.”

In all, the NRA has spent nearly $300,000 in this Senate election cycle to back Ashcroft, including $48,000 in hard and soft money contributions and almost $240,000 for TV and radio ads, bumper stickers and billboards.

Ashcroft has opposed gun-control measures on 13 consecutive Senate votes since 1996, including votes against funding for the Brady Bill, mandatory background checks for guns sold at gun shows, and requiring safety locks on handguns.

Ashcroft also vigorously supported the NRA’s concealed handgun referendum, Proposition B, in Missouri in 1999. The senator even appeared in radio ads, urging voters to approve the hidden handgun proposal. Missouri voters rejected Proposition B in April 1999. But the NRA still rewarded Ashcroft with an unprecedented $25,000 “soft money” contribution in March 2000 to the Ashcroft Victory Committee, a joint fund-raising committee set up by Ashcroft and the National Republican Senatorial Committee to collect unlimited contributions from special interests. The NRA has also given Ashcroft another $21,900 in hard money contributions since he started collecting money in 1995 for his re-election bid (see Table 1).

No other candidate for the House, Senate or presidency received such a huge contribution from the NRA in this election cycle, Public Citizen research shows. And many candidates wouldn t want to collect such soft money, because it circumvents campaign finance law limits on contributions to candidates and amounts to evidence that a candidate is violating the spirit, if not the letter of the law.

Current campaign finance law allows Ashcroft to receive up to $1,000 from an individual per election and up to $5,000 from a political action committee (PAC). Current law prohibits candidates from receiving direct contributions from corporations, unions and organizations such as the NRA. Unfortunately, it does not prohibit those groups from making unlimited soft money contributions to political parties, which can set up committees that directly benefit a candidate, such as the Ashcroft Victory Committee.

Federal candidates, like Ashcroft, help raise these large contributions, and the money is put into accounts that are clearly meant to help them. This skirting of the law blurs the lines between candidate and party fund raising and makes it more difficult to enforce the law.

Such unlimited soft money contributions from corporations, unions, individuals and groups would be banned by campaign finance reform legislation (S. 1593) sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). But Ashcroft has voted repeatedly against McCain s bill.

Table 1: Gun Lobby Contributions to Ashcroft Election Committees,

Jan. 1, 1995 June 30, 2000

Gun Lobby Special Interest

Amount

Date

National Rifle Association

$25,000

30-Mar-00

Sturm Ruger & Co

$1,000

8-Oct-99

National Rifle Association

$1,000

12-Jul-99

National Rifle Association

$3,950

29-Jun-99

Arena PAC (Charlton Heston s PAC)

$1,000

23-Jun-99

National Rifle Association

$4,950

23-Dec-98

National Rifle Association

$2,000

20-Oct-98

National Rifle Association

$5,000

31-Dec-97

National Rifle Association

$5,000

11-Oct-96

Total

$48,900

 

Source: Public Citizen analysis of Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org) data.

The $25,000 contribution makes Ashcroft the Senate s leading recipient of gun lobby special interest cash in the 1999-2000 election cycle, when the lion s share of contributions flow to senators up for re-election this year.

 

Table 2: Top Senate Recipients of Gun Lobby Contributions,

Jan. 1, 1999 June 30, 2000

Rank

Senate Recipient

Amount

1

John Ashcroft (R-Mo.)

$30,950

2

Rod Grams (R-Minn.)

$15,100

3

Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)

$14,900

4

Trent Lott (R-Miss.)

$14,500

5

Slade Gorton (R-Wash.)

$14,250

6

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

$11,950

7

Larry Craig (R-Idaho)

$10,950

8

Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.)

$10,700

9

Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.)

$10,400

10

Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)

$6,450

Source: Public Citizen analysis of Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org) data.

Not only has the gun lobby contributed $48,900 to Ashcroft s re-election campaign, but the NRA has also undertaken a major independent expenditure campaign to ensure his return to the Senate. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 16 and Oct. 26, the NRA has spent $239,762 for ads, billboards and bumper stickers to support Ashcroft. NRA spending includes:

  • $8,413 for billboards on Sept. 13
  • $19,526 for radio ads on Sept. 13
  • $165,463 for TV ads on Oct. 3
  • $46,359 on bumper stickers Oct. 6

“The NRA s $25,000 soft money contribution to the Ashcroft Victory Committee is effectively a smoking gun that shows how candidates shoot holes in campaign finance laws to bag large contributions from special interests,” Clemente said. “Then these same candidates blow away campaign finance reforms, like those championed by Senator John McCain. It s important for voters to consider where these candidates get their campaign ammunition from.”

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