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COURSEY: Tracking the influence of the NRA

I've written several times about the politics of guns in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. And each time my name appears over a column on this subject, I receive a lot of response – some of it reasoned, some of it ranting, some of it enthusiastically in agreement with me, some of it enthusiastically in favor of me finding another line of work.

Everybody has an opinion about guns.

This week, though, after I wrote about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to drop a proposed assault weapons ban from consideration by the full Senate, I heard not so much opinion as frustration from readers. Several asked, why give up without even putting the issue to a vote? Others noted, as did Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson in a piece on today's PD Editorial Page, that the victims of Sandy Hook and other gun violence "deserve a vote," in the words of President Barack Obama.

But, at least on the assault weapons ban, they won't get that vote. Because the Senate, which is widely viewed as completely cowed by the influence of the National Rifle Association, can't even muster 40 votes in favor of such legislation, let alone the required 60, according to Reid.

A reader named Nancy asked me, "Why aren't we reading about who is supported by the NRA? Why isn't that in the paper?"

Well, Nancy, the list is pretty long, and even if a certain senator's name doesn't appear on it, the influence of the NRA goes well beyond the members of Congress on whom it bestows money. In fact, it spent more money – a lot more money – in campaigns against candidates last year than it did in campaigns for candidates. And that threat looms large over every vote on guns that comes before Congress.

Last year, for example, the NRA spent only about $1.5 million in direct contributions to candidates. But it spent $24 million in independent expenditures, according to OpenSecrets.org. Of that, $18 million went to independent campaign organizations working to defeat Democratic candidates.

The NRA's financial tentacles into Congress are long, tangled and too extensive to detail here. But there are a variety of good web sites for those, like Nancy, who want to get into the weeds. Here are a few:

<a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000082">Open Secrets</a>

<a href=" http://maplight.org/content/73194">MapLight</a>


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