As the nation engages in a long-overdue debate about gun violence, ThinkProgress has documented examples of how the NRA’s influence over Congress and public opinion may be exaggerated. The NRA may, however, exercise more influence in state elections, where candidates are less well known and political ads can have more impact. The NRA has funneled millions of dollars to a front group that spends its money electing judges and state attorneys general who are tough on crime—unless those crimes involve gun control laws.
The Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) was founded with NRA funding in 1991. The LEAA opposes common-sense measures such as background checks and keeping guns away from people on the federal government’s “Terrorist Watchlist.”
The LEAA adamantly refuses to disclose its donors, but the NRA’s tax documents reveal that it gave the group at least $2 million between 2004 and 2010. Previous reports say the NRA gave the group $500,000 annually from 1995 to 2004, which would total more than $6 million.
The LEAA, in turn, has spent big on state supreme court races, shelling out millions of dollars for attack ads that distorted the rulings of judges in criminal cases. One judge was accused of “voting for” a rapist and a “baby killer.” An African American judge in Michigan was described as “soft on crime for rappers, lawyers, and child pornographers.” The LEAA’s attack ads helped give Republicans a majority on high courts in Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Three judges on the Mississippi Supreme Court were elected with LEAA support, and the court recently ruled that a Wal-Mart store was not liable for a murder committed with bullets the store had knowingly and illegally sold to a “straw purchaser” who gave them to an underage friend. A few months after the ruling, the LEAA spent nearly half a million dollars to elect a judge to the Mississippi high court.
The attorneys general elected with help from LEAA have struck down limits on guns. Former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, a Republican, moved to limit the reach of the “Uniform Machine Gun Act.” In 2011, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan granted gun owners in his state the right to use silencers if licensed by the ATF. Schuette’s office quoted an NRA spokesperson describing silencers as “useful safety devices.”
The NRA has also donated millions of dollars directly to state candidates. In 2009, 23 attorneys general publicly opposed renewal of the federal ban on assault weapons. Of the 21 elected attorneys general who signed the letter, 14 had received campaign cash from the NRA.
The LEAA is refusing to disclose its donors in a lawsuit stemming from the money laundering scandal connected to former Rep. Tom Delay (TX). Media reports have alleged that some of the LEAA’s attack ads were funded by the Chamber of Commerce. So in addition to pushing for more guns on the street, the LEAA could be doing the bidding of corporate interest groups—a far cry from its professed mission of representing the “average cop.”