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NRA influential in Florida, but not through campaign money

One current state legislator received $500 from the group.
Protesters fill the fourth floor rotunda of the Florida Capitol outside of the House of Representatives demanding stricter gun laws in Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 21 2018. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Feb. 21, 2018

In a state where top Republican lawmakers have pushed bills to make it easier to get guns and shied away from calling for drastic gun control measures, some have assumed Florida’s legislators are reliant on money from the National Rifle Association.

But that’s not how it works. Though the group spends millions on some candidates, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (when you count donations and expenditures on his behalf, according to the New York Times), they don’t spend much at all on individual statehouse campaigns.

More than 17 years ago, the NRA’s Political Victory Fund gave $500 to State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who last week declined to comment when reporters asked him what to do to stop mass shootings. It was a drop in the bucket of Bean’s 2000 campaign, which raised more than $223,000.

Records show a donation to Aaron Bean from the NRA's Political Victory Fund in 2000, the last direct contribution the group has made to a current Florida legislator.

Around that time, the NRA would spend small sums of money on dozens of Florida Republicans, like Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam ($500 in 1998, plus $200 from NRA’s lobbying arm’s executive director Christopher Cox in 2009), and Jack Latvala ($1,000), plus a couple Democrats, including Janegale Boyd and Rick Minton ($1,000 each).

But since 2000, the NRA’s donations to current members of Florida’s House and Senate amount to a grand total of zero.

For a while, it still bankrolled candidates through their party. From 2005 through 2013, the NRA paid the Republican Party of Florida $85,000. (It didn’t contribute to the Democratic party or any other party committee.) The party could then redistribute that money however it wanted to.

But $85,000 over nine years is peanuts to a party that raised $23 million for 2016’s election and $51 million for 2012’s.

Other states’ politicians aren’t getting more than Florida’s. The New York Daily News and The Trace found the NRA has achieved policy successes across the country without spending much at all at the state level.

In lieu of contributions, the NRA rewards legislators it likes with letter grades, visible to all of its members.

And lobbyists make the group’s interests known in other ways. In the weeks before the Parkland shooting, Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, wrote multiple messages endorsing bills to strengthen protections for concealed carry permit holders.

Current legislators have, however, taken small donations recently from other gun interests, such as hunting clubs and gun shops.

Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list:

  • Dennis Baxley received $300 from Jerry’s Pawn & Gun Shop, Inc. in 2006. Asked whether Florida should ban semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines, Baxley said, “I just think it’s misguided. We’re obsessing over the hardware of violence, and it makes as much sense as saying we’re going to stop obesity by collecting spoons.”
  • Doug Broxson received $495 from Gum Creek Hunting Club in 2012.
  • Danny Burgess received $200 from Pasco Gun Sports, LLC, in 2014.
  • George Gainer received $1,000 from Williams Gun & Pawn in 2015.
  • Mike La Rosa received $200 from Universal Shooting Academy, Inc. in 2014. La Rosa did not respond to questions about gun control measures but recommended making sure schools have armed resource officers and asking retired veterans if they “would like to play an active role in the school.”
  • Larry Metz received $100 from The A.W. Peterson Gun Shop in 2014.
  • Mike Miller received $500 from Oak Ridge Gun Range in 2014.
  • Jose Oliva received $500 from Suarez Tactical Rifles in 2011.
  • Scott Plakon received $250 from The A.W. Peterson Gun Shop in 2013.