A Los Angeles Times examination of the NRA’s spending suggests that its often-touted influence on Capitol Hill derives more from its fearsome reputation than from a substantial investment in federal election campaigns. Tax returns show the NRA spends far more on staff than on federal races. In 2010, for example, it spent $51.6 million on salaries and benefits for its employees, including more than $1 million for Kayne B. Robinson, the executive director for general operations, and nearly $1 million for Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre. That election cycle, it reported spending less than $8.4 million on independent campaigns for congressional candidates. The NRA handed out $1.28 million directly to federal candidates, 70% of it to Republicans.
The NRA has more than 4 million members and an annual budget that exceeds $200 million. But nowadays, the NRA’s political activity is dwarfed by that of GOP-allied advocacy groups such as Crossroads GPS that pump tens of millions of dollars into races around the country. As those groups help elect conservatives, who are almost uniformly pro-gun rights, they also further the NRA’s agenda. Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of “The Politics of Gun Control,” said that the NRA’s electoral influence has been exaggerated. Yet the NRA’s reputation as a political behemoth has been enough to freeze the gun control debate on Capitol Hill.