WASHINGTON — A political action committee launched by parents of Parkland students is scaling back its 2018 midterm plans in the wake of disappointing fund raising totals.
The group, Families vs. Assault Rifles, was launched in May by Jeffrey Kasky and Sergio Rozenblat, the parents of students who survived the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The pair worked with Matt Gohd, the group's California-based executive director, who said he was inspired by the shooting to become more involved politically.
"I have a teenage daughter, I wanted to feel like I had done everything I could to make sure this didn't happen again," Gohd said.
At its launch, Gohd, a long-time Democratic donor who has worked at numerous investment firms, told the Miami Herald it had an ambitious goal: to raise $10 million and act as a counterweight to the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful and successful politcal activist groups in the country. It planned to target politicians who opposed gun safety regulations. So far, it's only raised $230,000 – much of which came soon after the group was first launched. From July through the end of September, the group took in less than $30,000 and had only $13,000 left in the bank..
"None of us had a grasp of how difficult this would be," Gohd said. "We needed more resources, more people."
The group is currently "regrouping," Gohd said, as it considers its next steps, with a thought to greater activity in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
"I would say it was idealistic of us to think that we could get something through at this point," Gohd said.
The group's original plan was to match small-dollar donations — the group had encouraged people to donate $17 to honor the 17 students killed in the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — with big-dollar donations from national donors. Roughly 70 percent of the $230,000 raised by the group came from small-dollar donations below the $200 threshold at which donors' names must be reported to the Federal Election Commission, according to the group's filings. But the group only brought in two checks greater than $2,000 — $5,000 from non-profit consultant Toni Goodale and $25,000 from hedge-fund manager Donald Sussman, a major Democratic donor.
A spokesperson for Sussman said that he supports "sensible gun control" and that his donation to the group "extends from his support for South Florida generally, and his ties to the Parkland community — members of his extended team had children at the school."
But the group found it difficult to distinguish itself from other groups with similar missions, such as Giffords, founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who was shot at a constituent meeting in Tucson in 2011, and the Michael Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety. Those groups have already spent roughly $7 million on attack ads and other independent expenditures during the 2018 midterms, more than the roughly $6 million they had spent at this point in the 2014 midterms, according to FEC filings.
And Families vs. Assault Rifles' connection to the Parkland student-led March for Our Lives, which had been co-founded by Kasky's son Cameron and has raised millions of dollars, didn't prove as fruitful as the organizers thought it might in terms of fundraising.
"When we started, we just didn't realize how crowded the space was," Gohd said.
The group spent roughly half of its money on consulting services, with the biggest chunk going to Empire Global Ventures, a New York based firm primarily focused on corporate clients but whose founders boast political campaign experience.
The group created digital fundraising ads featuring Kasky, but didn't have enough money to create ads targeting candidates, as had been the initial goal.
The group's organizers didn't take a salary for their work, but were reimbursed for travel and other expenses incurred on the organization's behalf.
The group's spokewsoman, Dini von Mueffling, has also worked with the group Sandy Hook's Promise, which was created by the parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012.
She said that in the wake of a tragedy it can be difficult for parents and survivors to balance many competing obligations.
"Everyone wants to do something, but they're torn in a million different directions," she said. "The road is paved with good intentions."
McClatchey Washington Bureau staff writers Ben Wieder and Alex Daugherty wrote this story.