May 19, 2024

and Money

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Guns and money
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — The American people want gun regulation, but the Senate will not meet the moment. The best we can expect is incentives for states to adopt “red flag” initiatives to keep guns out of the hands of people with identifiable mental-health challenges. Universal background checks and a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons, the two steps that could make a real difference, are out of reach.
          Among the reasons background checks and a ban on assault weapons are unlikely to cross the finish line is campaign contributions and the role money plays in our politics. The NRA spent $54 million during the 2016 cycle, focusing on Donald Trump.
          In the nearly 10 years since the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA has spent more than $100 million to help elect Republicans who will support their agenda. In 2016 alone, the gun-rights group spent $54 million on pro-gun politicians, including $30 million for Trump.
          At last weekend’s NRA Convention in Texas, Trump was the highlighted speaker. He followed Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has the dubious distinction of being the biggest recipient among U.S. lawmakers of gun lobby money between 1989 and 2020.
          The NRA is a financially-troubled organization, but it remains a conduit for money and influence in Washington, and along with its allies in the gun lobby, bears much of the responsibility for the stalemate in the Senate.
          Two Democrats out of 50, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are blocking any change in the filibuster rules that would allow a majority vote in the Senate to pass gun reform.
          These Democrats deserve some blame for the impasse, but the greater share should land at the feet of Senate leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the GOP caucus he leads. If McConnell would allow 10 Republican votes to join the Democrats, the country could get an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks.
          McConnell cares about power and how to keep it for himself and his party. He is the minority leader, but he has more leverage over what the Senate does than the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., due to the filibuster.
          McConnell pays attention to his donors. What his donors want, McConnell wants. Former President Obama in his memoir, “The Promised Land,” offers this portrait of McConnell: “As far as anyone could tell, he had no close friends even in his own caucus; nor did he appear to have any strong convictions beyond an almost religious opposition to any version of campaign finance reform.”
          The Supreme Court shredded what was left of campaign finance legislation crafted by the late Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisc. Today, there is no groundswell of support to reform our campaign funding laws.
          Instead, it’s Katy bar the door as Republicans seek to regain control of the House and maybe even the Senate in the November midterms, effectively shutting down what’s left of the Biden presidency when it comes to legislative action.
          Anyone who has voted or given a donation to a political candidate is being barraged by emails seeking contributions. Many of the pleas are urgent, with Democrats noting that democracy is on the ballot, while Republicans brandish their guns to both inspire and create fear among voters about gun control taking hold.
          We are in a new age of Robber Barons, the term used to describe the wealthy industrialists in the early part of the twentieth century who openly bribed senators to get what they wanted. It’s not quite as direct a transaction as today, but the gun lobby, billionaires, and other special interest groups gain outsized power over elected officials by funding their campaigns. Stopping legislation from ever happening is why America can’t address this contagion of gun violence, and it’s a crying shame.
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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