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NYT: “NRA’s New Candidate Grades Show a Continuing Decline in Support”

September 9, 2020

According to a New York Times analysis of the NRA’s recently-released grades and endorsements, the NRA “continues to lose ground in Congress, with the last remnants of its Democratic support vanishing and its still-high Republican support eroding slightly.” Polling has repeatedly demonstrated that NRA-backed policies are unpopular with the American people––including gun owners,Republicans, and battleground state voters, all of whom overwhelmingly support gun safety laws like background checks on all gun sales. 

Key findings from the Times analysis include: 

  • Dwindling bipartisan support for the NRA: According to the Times, after the 2008 elections, “there were 63 A-rated Democrats in the House and at least eight in the Senate.” But after this year’s elections, “there will be no such Democrats in the Senate and, at most, one in the House.”
  • Fs outnumber As: In 2018, for the first time “in well over a decade, at least,” the NRA gave more F grades than A grades. This election the NRA has again done the same: overall, 43% of those graded received “A” ratings and 49% received “F” ratings.
  • Downgrades outnumber upgrades: Most members of Congress running for reelection “received the same grade from the N.R.A. this year as in 2018,” but among the few whose grades changed, “nearly three times as many have been downgraded (14) as upgraded (5). This is true among both Democrats (8 to 3) and Republicans (6 to 2).”
  • Republicans are beginning to leave the NRA and support gun safety: Most Republicans received A grades and most Democrats received F’s, but according to the Times, “there are more than twice as many defectors on the Republican side: Nine Republicans got D’s or F’s, while only four Democrats got A’s or B’s. (Five Republicans and three Democrats got C’s.)”

A previous Times analysis of six cycles of N.R.A. grades found that incumbents who defied the NRA faced “very little electoral backlash,” and “legislators who moved away from the N.R.A. did better electorally than legislators who moved toward it.” Last cycle, the NRA also tacitly admitted that its grades were toxic by pulling its previous grades off its website because, according to an NRA employee, “our enemies were using that.” 

Everytown’s own review found that in the four days after the NRA grades were released, only 14 candidates who received “A” grades from the NRA touted that fact on Twitter this past weekend, while 24 candidates bragged that they had received “F” grades.

These analyses of the NRA’s decline comes at a time when it is already mired in immense legal, financial, and internal turmoil––which have led even the Trump administration to begin “hedg[ing] their bets” on the NRA by “aggressively reaching out to other gun groups.” 

  • Legal: Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed suit seeking to dissolve the NRA for violating New York charities law. On the same day, DC Attorney General Karl Racine sued the NRA for allegedly exerting undue influence over the NRA Foundation. Additionally, the NRA was recently hit with a class action lawsuit, and it was already facing charges by New York State’s Department of Financial Services, and locked in various lawsuits with former business partner Ackerman McQueen. As a result of these legal troubles, the Trace reported allegations that the NRA paid its top lawyer an estimated $54 million in the last two years alone.  
  • Financial: In 2019, the NRA was $57 million in debt and its revenue from member dues declined by 34% while its “legal, audit, and tax costs” increased by 39%. It recently reportedly laid off and furloughed over 200 employees. Additionally, earlier this year, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said that the NRA suffered “about a $100 million hit” in 2018 and 2019, and that for the NRA “to survive,” he took “about $80 million” out of the budget. This follows years of alleged financial mismanagement, during which NRA executive pay has skyrocketed, money flowed to “unpaid” board members, and the NRA’s own board members and accountants called into question lavish, legally suspect personal spending by its leadership.
  • Internal: Experts believe that Wayne LaPierre’s removal is “a foregone conclusion” due to the NRA’s legal troubles. Additionally, according to The Guardian, the NRA’s “drop in revenues accelerated in 2019 when several large NRA donors began a drive to oust LaPierre over allegations of mismanagement and self-dealing, and to promote reforms.” These donors have boasted that “$165 million in donations and planned gifts had been withheld.” 

A detailed history of the NRA’s finances and litigation can be found on NRAWatch.org.

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