Read the full analysis here.
Washington, D.C. — Today, as communities around the country continue the debate over gun violence prevention, the Center for American Progress released “NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors,” which traces the millions of dollars that the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, or LEAA, has spent in state races—with the help of the National Rifle Association—to elect judges and prosecutors that grant broad rights to gun owners and curtail the rights of criminal defendants. This analysis details the LEAA’s NRA-funded efforts to elect three judges to the Mississippi Supreme Court by paying millions of dollars for ads. In September 2012 the Court ruled that a local Wal-Mart store was not liable for knowingly selling ammunition to a “straw purchaser” later used in a murder.
Founded and heavily funded by the National Rifle Association, the LEAA operates at the state and local level opposing common-sense gun reforms such as background checks, bans on assault weapons, and measures to keep guns out of the hands of people on the federal government’s “Terrorist Watchlist.” While the LEAA’s refusal to disclose the source of its funding makes it difficult to ascertain the full extent to which the NRA has supported the organization, the NRA’s tax documents reveal that it gave at least $2 million to the organization between 2000 and 2010. Previous media reports indicate that the NRA donated $500,000 annually to the organization from 1995 to 2002, which would total more than $5 million.
By funding the LEAA, the NRA has helped purchase ads supporting pro-gun candidates for state supreme courts and state attorneys general. The judges and prosecutors elected with the aid of LEAA funding have carried out their duties in accord with the values of the LEAA and the NRA. Some examples include:
- Former Republican Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore was elected with the aid of the LEAA, and his campaigns have also received $11,000 directly from the NRA and its employees. Upon taking office in 2002, Kilgore moved to limit the reach of the “Uniform Machine Gun Act,” which prohibits “aggressive” use of a machine gun. Kilgore also issued a ruling that the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had no power to ban concealed handguns in state parks.
- Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan was elected in 2010 after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In 2011 he granted gun owners in his state the right to use silencers if licensed by the federal government. The press release from Schuette’s office on the topic quoted an NRA spokesperson describing silencers as “useful safety devices.”
- Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, also a Republican, was first elected in 2002, after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In November 2012 he issued an opinion stating that employers could not enact policies that prohibited employees from keeping concealed weapons in their vehicles.
Since the LEAA was launched with NRA funding in 1991, restrictions on political spending by corporations and independent spending groups have been struck down by federal courts in cases such as Citizens United. The NRA has been a vocal opponent of proposed legislation to shed some light on the opaque funding of independent spenders. Without more effective disclosure rules, elections for judicial and prosecutorial offices can expect more attack ads from anonymous donors intent on shaping our state justice systems.
Read the full analysis here.
- The Million Dollar Judges of 2012 by Billy Corriher
- Campaign Finance Laws Fail as Corporate Money Floods Judicial Races by Billy Corriher
- Public Financing of Judicial Races Can Give Small Donors a Decisive Role by Billy Corriher
- Money undermines judges’ impartiality by Billy Corriher (USA Today)
To speak with CAP experts on this topic, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.