Gun Owners of America belatedly reported record $3.3 million on federal lobbying in 2022 • OpenSecrets

“Gun Owners of America” buttons sold in Lansing, Mich., on Sept. 27, 2022, during the group’s annual rally. (Photo by Rebecca Cook/AFP via Getty Images)

Gun Owners of America belatedly disclosed a record $3.3 million on federal lobbying in 2022, a new OpenSecrets analysis found. The “no compromise gun lobby” group was the only major gun rights group to increase its federal lobbying expenditures from 2021 to 2022, while other power players including the National Shooting Sports Federation, the National Rifle Association and the National Association for Gun Rights scaled back their federal lobbying spending. 

Federal lobbying spending on both sides of the gun policy debate slumped last year, even as Congress passed its first piece of gun control legislation in decades. Gun rights groups spent $13.2 million on federal lobbying in 2022, while gun control groups spent nearly $2.3 million.

Congress broke decades of partisan gridlock in June 2022 to negotiate and pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which enhanced background checks for buyers under the age of 21, closed the so-called “boyfriend loophole” and funded state-level crisis intervention programs and mental health services, among other provisions. President Joe Biden signed the gun control bill into law on June 25, 2022.

While Gun Owners of America’s lobbying disclosures do not explicitly mention lobbying on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the group urged its members to call their senators and oppose the bill. In a “national alert” posted on its site, the gun rights group claimed to spend “thousands of dollars for ads to generate thousands of phone calls into key Senate offices.”

Gun Owners of America reported lobbying on 162 federal bills during 2022, more than any other gun rights group. Gun Owners of America filed its second, third and fourth quarter federal lobbying disclosures for 2022 on Feb. 10, meaning the public was not aware of the scope of this lobbying until nearly a year after it occurred in some instances. The group has consistently filed federal lobbying disclosures weeks if not months late since 2019.

“It was an oversight,” John Velleco, executive vice president at Gun Owners of America, told OpenSecrets in a phone interview. “We’ve put reminders in place to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

The gun rights group also increased spending in federal elections during the 2022 cycle. Gun Owners of America contributed $147,500 to federal Republican candidates, more than twice the $63,575 the group contributed to federal candidates in 2018.

Gun Owners of America also formed the GOA Victory Fund super PAC in June 2022 and spent $2.6 million on federal races in 2022. The super PAC is funded by the Gun Owners of America, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that does not disclose its donors.

Ahead of the 2022 general election, Gun Owners of America admonished Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for backing “anti-gun RINO” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) with his aligned super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, and abandoning pro-gun candidates including Don Bolduc in the New Hampshire Senate race. 

“The attacks on the Second Amendment are increasing, particularly by the Biden administration, and so that forces us to increase our lobbying and particular legal activities,” Velleco told OpenSecrets. He predicted the uptick in federal lobbying spending will continue, adding “the members and supporters that we have are really concerned about the direction of the Second Amendment is going in this country.”

While Gun Owners of America grew its political influence, the once indomitable National Rifle Association reported its largest-ever year-to-year decline in federal lobbying spending, down from $4.9 million in 2021 to $2.6 million in 2022. The NRA has lost more than 1 million members since 2019, when allegations of financial impropriety by leadership rocked the NRA and led the group to file for bankruptcy in 2021.

But lobbying spending alone isn’t the sole measure of a group’s influence, and an NRA spokesperson told CQ Roll Call that “while others focus on inconsequential benchmarks, the NRA focuses on results for our members and gun owners.” Although the NRA — and gun rights groups as a whole — reported less spending on federal lobbying in 2022, disclosure requirements do not cover grassroots efforts these groups employed to pressure Congress or shape the 2022 midterm elections.

The NRA was the 20th biggest outside spending group in the 2022 midterm elections. Over $5.9 million of the $14 million the NRA poured into outside spending in 2022 midterm elections went into the U.S. Senate race in Georgia between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker, effectively boosting Walker. Around $3.1 million of that was spent after the general election race advanced to a runoff. The NRA also contributed $647,060 to federal GOP candidates during the 2022 election cycle.

But the political future of the NRA is in flux. Jason Ouimet, head of the NRA’s lobbying arm and PAC, told The Reload on Tuesday he is stepping down after nearly four years to pursue another opportunity. The NRA has not yet identified a replacement, but CEO Wayne LaPierre said in a tweet the group hopes to identify a replacement soon and, in the meantime, “there will be no change to the advocacy or programs taking place within [the Institute for Legislative Action],” the group’s lobbying arm.

The National Rifle Association did not return OpenSecrets’ request for comment.

While the NRA has seen ups and downs in its federal lobbying spending in recent years, other gun rights groups spent more consistently on federal lobbying in recent years. The National Shooting Sports Foundation spent $4.9 million on federal lobbying in 2022, more money than any other gun rights group.

That firearms industry trade association struck a more moderate tone than the incendiary Gun Owners of America on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, releasing a statement that said it was “encouraged by portions of the proposal” like funding for mental health services and cracking down straw donor purchases. In contrast, Gun Owners of America called out the 15 GOP senators who “stabbed gun owners in the back” by supporting the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

While the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Gun Owners of America approach gun rights policy differently, their portfolios overlap significantly. Of the 104 bills the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported lobbying, 54 bills were also lobbied by Gun Owners of America. More than two-thirds of the bills lobbied by the National Association for Gun Rights, which spent $1.4 million on federal lobbying in 2022, were also lobbied by Gun Owners of America.

“We’ve been doing what we do for 45 years. We tried to keep a steady course, being the no compromise voice in Washington for gun owners, irrespective of the ups and downs and the comings and goings of other organizations,” Velleco said.

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