The NRA’s favorite Wisconsin state politicians

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Among Wisconsin state lawmakers, Republicans are the sole beneficiaries of NRA political campaign spending, and legislative records show that they’ve voted consistently with the organization to block restrictions on guns and gun ownership, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group seeking to reform campaign finance laws.

“In Wisconsin, the NRA, which opposes efforts to toughen gun laws, has spent nearly $5.5 million during the past 20 years on outside electioneering activities to support GOP and conservative legislative and statewide candidates,” the Democracy Campaign stated in a brief report distributed Wednesday.

The report comes as a pair of mass shootings less than a day apart, in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, have again turned the spotlight on legislation limiting access to guns.

The report also ranks lawmakers on their NRA financial support between 1998 and 2018. NRA PAC spent a little more than $1 million on ads backing legislative and statewide candidates and another $119,450 in direct campaign donations. 

The top four lawmakers who received NRA support, the Democracy Campaign found, were:

  • State Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon); $1,500 in donations; $10,772 in outside election support.
  • State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst); $3,500 in donations; $4,437 in outside election support.
  • State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills); $3,000 in donations; $2,035 in outside election support.
  • State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay); $5,000 in outside election support. Cowles received no NRA-related direct donations.

All four ranked high on the NRA’s scorecard for voting the way the organization wanted. Tiffany is the most favored of the four, garnering 100% scores in 2012 and 2016 and “A” ratings in 2008 and 2010. Darling and Cowles both ranked 93% in 2012 and 2016. 

Olsen, although he got the most financial support, has been slightly less favored, scoring 79% in 2012 and 2016. Most of Olsen’s outside NRA backing came when he faced a close recall election in 2012, the Democracy Campaign’s executive director, Matt Rothschild, told the Wisconsin Examiner.

The [NRA’s] support for Republican legislative and statewide candidates has paid off handsomely,” the Democracy Campaign declared in an earlier report enumerating NRA-backed laws passed since 2011, when Republicans took control of the senate, the assembly, and the governor’s office. Those include measures that: 

  • Legalized concealed carry of firearms.
  • Eliminated the 48-hour waiting period to buy a gun.
  • Extended legal protections for people who shoot trespassers inside a home, business or vehicle — commonly referred to as “castle doctrine.”
  • Created creation of a wolf hunting season.
  • Legalized switchblade knives.
  • Expanded prohibitions against “interfering” with hunting, trapping and fishing.
  • Made it more difficult to close shooting ranges.
  • Allowed children of any age to enroll in the state hunting mentorship program.
  • Creating an accelerated process that “authorities are required to use to return seized firearms to their owners,” in the words of the report.

In addition, 40 Republican lawmakers voted in 2017 for ending training and permit requirements for people to carry concealed weapons. 

That bill — which would also have lifted the ban on carrying firearms into police stations, jails, prisons, and mental health facilities unless signs specifically barring weapons on the grounds or buildings were posted — did not pass.

Former Gov. Scott Walker was Wisconsin’s  leading NRA beneficiary, with more than $4.4 million on NRA-sponsored campaign ads and related promotional material in four elections: 2010, the 2012 failed Walker recall attempt, 2014, and 2018, when Walker lost his bid for a third term to Democrat Tony Evers.

Evers, the Democracy Campaign observed, “has received no contributions or election support from the NRA.”

Walker’s campaign also received $17,500 in direct donations from the NRA’s PAC, the report found.

Key NRA-backed bills

  • AB820 – passed in 2018 – outlines procedure for closing sport shooting ranges.  Voted for by Cowles, Darling, Olsen, and Tiffany.
  • SB7 – passed in 2017 – requires that renewed concealed carry permits are valid for five years from the expiration date of the license being renewed.  Passed on a voice vote in the Senate; Olsen and Tiffany were among co-sponsors. 
  • AB13 – passed in 2016 – outlines procedure authorities and courts must follow to return seized firearms to their owners. Passed on a voice vote in the Senate; Tiffany was among co-sponsors.
  • SB35 – passed in 2015 – eliminates 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases. Passed on a voice vote in the Senate; Tiffany was among co-sponsors.
  • SB527 – passed in 2014 – loosens zoning and noise restrictions that local governments can impose on shooting ranges. Voted for by Cowles, Darling, Olsen, and Tiffany.
  • AB8 – passed in 2013 – outlines hunting restrictions within a specific distance from hospitals, schools and other facilities. Voted for by Cowles, Darling, Olsen, and Tiffany.
  • AB69 – passed in 2011 – the so-called Castle Doctrine. Voted for by Cowles, Darling, Olsen and Tiffany, and co-sponsored by Cowles and Olsen; Tiffany was an Assembly member at the time
  • SB93 – passed in 2011 – legalizes concealed carry. Voted for by Cowles, Darling, Olsen, and Tiffany; Tiffany was an Assembly member at the time
  • SB228 – passed in 2011 – loosens restrictions on transporting guns in vehicles. Passed on a voice vote in the Senate; Tiffany, an Assembly member at the time, voted for the bill.

Source: Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn joins the Wisconsin Examiner after 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, and The Progressive, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. His work has also appeared in other national publications including Politico, The Washington Monthly, and The American Lawyer.

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