Interest Group Politics: How the NRA Does It
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 09:01:37 PM EST
Over the course of the 2006 midterm campaigns, one of the most oft-heard and spot on complaints made about some of the leading progressive interest groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Sierra Club was that they were willing to back Republican candidates, like Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, who had shown support for their causes, despite the fact that continued Republican control over either chamber of Congress would have set back their movements for at least another two years. On the other side of the aisle, however, groups traditionally allied with the Republican Party have shown no such propensity to oppose the GOP, at least on the federal level. To get a good gauge of the difference between these two approaches take a gander at an article Jeffrey Birnbaum pens for The Washington Post tomorrow on the NRA.
In lobbying, a threat is good for business, whether it's genuine or not.
This might help to explain the dire warnings being issued by the National Rifle Association as the Democrats prepare to take control of Congress this week.
"The new leadership could be one of the most unfriendly to the National Rifle Association," declared Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA. "If there's an effort to pursue gun control, we will mount an active defense."
The famously combative lobby, with 4 million members, is displeased with the voting histories of House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other top Democrats in the House and is putting them on notice that it won't tolerate passage of anti-gun measures.
The only problem: No one expects gun legislation this year.
True, a few Democrats would love to take a potshot at the NRA. But its $20 million in political firepower has long discouraged any such effort. It helped to snuff out the presidential hopes of Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and to elect dozens, mostly Republicans, to Congress.
Besides, one of the NRA's biggest backers is a Democrat, Rep. John D. Dingell (Mich.), who was instrumental in blocking the last major attempt at gun control in 1999 and will reclaim the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week.
No matter. The NRA is on high alert, and its latest weapon is a pamphlet designed to send its members into fits of paranoid rage and to inspire them to open their wallets.
While it disappoints me to read about the scope of the NRA's power in Washington, there is room to learn from its actions. The fact that the gun lobby is going out of its way to oppose the incoming Democratic Congress even as some leading Democrats support their positions and gun control legislation isn't likely to make it to the floor any time soon is not unintentional. Instead, the leadership of the movement -- and the NRA in particular -- has hitched itself to the GOP and knows that it can be more successful by closely aligning with one party than by shifting its allegiances every cycle. Although conventional wisdom might dictate that such a stance would hurt those opposed to gun regulations in the long-term, the fact that the Democrats are not planning to go up against the lobby indicates that this line of thinking is incorrect.