Politics & Government

NC senators got more money from the NRA than most lawmakers. Here’s why.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., left, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, walk from a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. A new report has found North Carolina’s two U.S. senators among the top beneficiaries of money from the National Rifle Association.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., left, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, walk from a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. A new report has found North Carolina’s two U.S. senators among the top beneficiaries of money from the National Rifle Association. AP

As America once again debates its gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting, a new report has found North Carolina’s two U.S. senators among the top beneficiaries of money from the National Rifle Association.

Only one of the 535 members of Congress has gotten more help from the NRA than Republican Sen. Richard Burr, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Only three, including Burr, got more than GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.

NRA groups have spent nearly $7 million on behalf of Burr. That includes $5.6 million that NRA groups spent last year against his Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross. That was more than the NRA spent against any candidate with the exception of Hillary Clinton.

And Tillis has gotten $4.5 million in help, including independent expenditures against his 2014 opponent, then-incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan.

In both years North Carolina was a key in the battle for the U.S. Senate. The Tillis-Hagan race saw more than $100 million in spending, making it at the time the most expensive congressional race ever.

It was easy for the NRA to pick sides. Burr and Tillis each had perfect scores on NRA-backed legislation. The group gave Hagan a grade of D+, and Ross an F.

Nationally, the NRA spent more than $54 million last year, most in the form of independent expenditures on TV ads, mailings and phone banks.

Gun control groups – such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety – gave a total of $1.6 million, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. The group gave Ross $32,000 and $13,000 to U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat.

Burr could not be reached. His office referred calls to a campaign spokesman, who was not available. In a statement Monday, Burr said, “This morning’s tragic violence has absolutely no place here in America.”

Tillis tweeted that he and his wife “send our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of the victims of this horrific and senseless tragedy.”

But speaking to reporters Tuesday, he sidestepped a question on changes to gun laws. “We can have that discussion at another time,” he said. “But it’s a typical political tactic by some on the left.”

NRA A+ ratings

This week Congress was scheduled to debate a law that would make it easier to purchase silencers. Last month, a House panel began debating a bill called the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. Among other things, it would allow people to bring assault guns into jurisdictions where they are banned and protect the use of armor-piercing bullets.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, have again called for some form of gun restrictions. Those aren’t expected to go far in the Republican-controlled Congress.

“I don’t know that more laws are going to fix a problem,” Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents western North Carolina, said Tuesday. “It appears that mental illness and perhaps other reasons that we don’t even know right now created a very tragic and horrific act … Does it prompt a gun control debate? I don’t think so.”

In 2015 Burr co-sponsored a concealed-carry reciprocity bill, which would have allowed people with permits to carry concealed weapons in one state to do so in another that doesn’t prohibit the weapons.

Tillis also has an A+ rating, based in part on his support for concealed carry laws and his opposition to former President Barack Obama’s push for a universal background check system.

Outside money

Last year the NRA ran a series of TV ads against Ross, accusing her of voting against gun rights and “personal liberty” as a North Carolina legislator. The $5.6 million it spent against Ross was twice as much as it spent on any other congressional candidate. It also was part of $55 million in outside spending in the N.C. race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“When the polls got close, there was more and more outside money that came in because this was a race that could flip control of the U.S. Senate,” Ross said Wednesday. “Outside money made a difference in my race and it makes a difference in all the races.”

The Center for Responsive Politics also found:

▪ Of the 535 members of Congress, only Sen. John McCain has received more NRA help than Burr. He got $7.7 million, largely during his 2008 run for the White House against Obama.

▪ Rep. Walter Jones of Pitt County was North Carolina’s biggest House beneficiary of NRA money. It gave him or spent on his behalf more than $56,000.

“This happens too often,” he said of Sunday’s shooting. “I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t know what the answer is. But for me personally when 59 people are shot and killed, it’s very sad.”

▪ Next in NRA help was Rep. Patrick McHenry of Lincoln County, who got $42,000.

▪ None of the three Democrats in the N.C. delegation got anything.

Christy Clark of Huntersville, who leads the state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group affiliated with Bloomberg, said she’s confident that lawmakers “will take steps to reduce gun violence.”

“We elect our members of Congress to serve their constituents and not the organization that wrote them the biggest paycheck,” she said.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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