Politics

Gillibrand Sees NRA ‘Chokehold on Congress,’ Ignores Even Stronger Liberal PACs

National Rifle Association spent $54.4M in 2016 on political contributions, but progressive Priorities USA spent $133.4M — who has more influence on Capitol Hill?

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) slammed the National Rife Association Tuesday on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” claiming its $54.4 million in campaign donations give it “a chokehold on Congress.”

She ignored the liberal PAC Priorities USA’s $133 million in checks.

The senator’s spokesman declined to respond when LifeZette asked if Gillibrand thinks Priorities USA has an even stronger “chokehold” because it gives more than twice as much as the NRA to politicians in Congress.

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Gillibrand can expect more such questions if, as widely expected, she seeks the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

For now, her blast at the NRA followed last week’s massacre of 17 people by Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old who formerly attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

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Gillibrand joined a chorus of media figures, celebrities, and Democrats in demanding stronger federal gun control measures.

“You’ve been in D.C. since 2007. Why can’t there be any meaningful reform — or even meaningless reform?” Colbert asked Gillibrand.

The senator replied, “This is unfathomable how many deaths we’ve had to see over and over and over again. And Congress has done nothing. The silence is literally deafening.”

“And they don’t get anything done because the NRA has a chokehold on Congress,” Gillibrand continued. “The NRA is concerned only with gun sales. It is literally all about money. It is all about greed. It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. And we’ve seen death after death after death, and it has to stop.”

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The NRA spent almost $54.4 million in outside spending during the 2016 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign funding data compiled by opensecrets.org. But the NRA was outspent 7-1 by Priorities USA and three other liberal PACs that support only Democrats, with a total of $393 million.

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“What are the people who are beholden to the NRA — what is the cudgel hold over them? Is it the money the NRA gives to them, or is it firing up those concerned who are single-issue voters on the Second Amendment voters during the primaries?” Colbert asked Gillibrand. “I don’t understand what the stick is here.”

Gillibrand said the issue is that the NRA has “so much power” that “nothing was done” after the shootings in Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Las Vegas, and now Parkland.

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“That is the power. It’s the power of money, it’s the power of communications, it’s the fear they instill in members, and it’s wrong. It’s morally wrong,” Gillibrand said.

Colbert noted that Gillibrand once held an “A” rating on the NRA’s website. The audience applauded and cheered when Colbert revealed that Gillibrand now holds an “F” NRA rating.

Gillibrand said she now realizes how important it is “to shame any member of Congress that takes money from the NRA” by “calling them out and holding them accountable.”

When Colbert asked Gillibrand if Washington, D.C., is “owned by corporations, as we all cynically fear,” the senator replied, “Well, yeah.”

“I believe that, first of all, we have dark money in politics. We have unlimited corporate spending with no accountability, no transparency. So we have to get the money out of politics,” Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand’s demand “to get the money out of politics” has been a staple of Democratic campaigns for a generation, but the 2016 presidential race provided a concrete illustration of the fact that a candidate’s spending more than an opponent is no guarantee of winning on Election Day.

“I believe that, first of all, we have dark money in politics. We have unlimited corporate spending with no accountability, no transparency. So we have to get the money out of politics,” Gillibrand said.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent $563.7 million seeking to win the 2016 presidential election, and others spent another $231 million on her behalf, according to opensecrets.org. By contrast, President Donald Trump won the election while spending only $333 million and benefiting from $75.3 million others spent in his support.

When Colbert asked Gillibrand to reveal which corporations have given or are giving still to her, the senator said, “I’ve just banned corporate PAC checks, actually.” Colbert did not ask her if she also plans to refuse contributions from PACs representing longtime Democratic allies like the National Education Association union and the AFL-CIO.

“The reason why I think we have to lead by example on this is because we have to start taking the money out of politics because it undermines our democracy. Money is not speech,” Gillibrand said. “You need to take away the voice and the outsized influence that corporations have over members of Congress. And the NRA is one of the worst offenders.”

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.

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