In light of Sunday's bloodshed in Orlando—and the fact that our country's lax gun laws enable this sort of thing to happen—we decided to take a closer look at which North Carolina politicians the National Rifle Association, a group that has worked very hard to ensure that sportsmen and sociopaths alike have ready access to military-grade weapons, has spent millions of dollars to elect.
As recently as five years ago, it turns out, the NRA would occasionally steer money to Democrats, including blue dogs like Heath Shuler, Mike McIntyre, and Larry Kissell. It even cut Attorney General Roy Cooper, now the Democratic nominee for governor, a $2,000 check back in 2008.
But as the country has grown more partisan, and as inaction on gun control has reached once-inconceivable WTF levels, the NRA's money is increasingly allocated along strict party lines. A recent study by the nonprofit media organization The Trace found that the NRA has spent "virtually nothing" on behalf of Democrats in the last three federal election cycles. But it has spent jaw-dropping amounts backing Republicans in tight races.
And when those Republicans win, they owe the NRA big time.
Count Thom Tillis among them. The NRA dropped $4.4 million on his 2014 race against Kay Hagan. In fact, the NRA spent more on that Senate campaign than any entity other than the Republican and Democratic parties. No U.S. senator received more money from the NRA in that cycle.
Tillis won by just fifty thousand votes. And on the day after the San Bernardino massacre last December, Tillis joined every other Republican senator to oppose legislation that would block people on terrorist watch lists—people who aren't allowed to board airplanes—from purchasing guns. Tillis also voted against a bill to expand background checks on guns purchased online and at gun shows.
Richard Burr, North Carolina's senior senator, voted the same way on both measures. Indeed, he's been a reliable Senate vote for the NRA for over a decade now. In 2004, the NRA spent $540,000 to get him elected. It chipped in another $100,000 to secure his reelection in 2010. And so far this election cycle—Burr will face Democrat Deborah Ross in what is expected to be a tight contest this fall—the NRA has already spent $120,000. Not quite Tillis money, but it's only June.
Burr has given much in return. Beyond those 2015 votes, Burr has supported legislation to exempt the gun lobby from campaign-finance laws (2002); opposed a United Nations tax on firearms (2003); supported prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers (2005); opposed banning high-capacity magazines (2013); and opposed banning "straw purchases"—i.e., people buying firearms on behalf of those legally barred from owning them (2013).
In exchange for Thom and Richard's obedience, the organization has formally awarded both with its top grade: A+.
The NRA also spreads money around in the North Carolina General Assembly, albeit to a lesser degree. Here are some of its most popular recipients, according to campaign finance records:
Senate President Phil Berger: $6,000
Agricultural Commissioner Steve Troxler: $3,500 in-kind
Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest: $3,500 in-kind, plus a $250 check
Senator Bill Cook: $3,400 in-kind
Representative Jonathan Jordan: $3,300 in-kind
Speaker Tim Moore: $2,500
Senator Tom McInnis: $2,000 in-kind
Senator Stan Bingham: $2,000 in-kind
Senator Wesley Meredith: $1,900 in-kind
Representative Michele Presnell: $1,500 in-kind
Senator Buck Newton: $1,500
Representative Mike Hager: $1,000
And Tillis got $3,000 back when he was Speaker of the House.