I-TEAM: Breaking down NRA’s influence in Wisconsin politics

Sen. Ron Johnson
Posted at 5:06 PM, May 27, 2022

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin’s Senior Senator has pulled in more than $1.2 million from the country’s biggest gun lobby.

Ron Johnson NRA support
Ron Johnson has received the 15th highest amount of money from the National Rifle Association of all current elected officials in the country.

Ron Johnson’s campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA) come in a variety of ways, according to the non-partisan watchdog group Open Secrets. Johnson has received $222,529 in direct financing from the NRA, while the bulk of the money he benefits from comes from independent spending: $1,065,660. That money largely goes to advertising efforts both for Johnson and against whoever his opponent may be.

In total, Johnson has benefited from $1,288,189 from the NRA, which is the 15th highest total of any current elected official in the country.

Johnson’s counterpart in the state, Tammy Baldwin, has received no money from the NRA. However, the NRA has spent $771,863 for her opposition, the 10th highest dollar amount spent against any current elected official.

Baldwin NRA opposition money
Tammy Baldwin's opponents have benefited from over $770,000 in spending by the NRA. The NRA has only spent more money in opposition of 9 currently elected officials.

“There is no doubt the money a pro-gun person versus a gun control person gets is an indication of the imbalance in American politics,” Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee Professor Emeritus, said.

Lee says politicians may take influence from special interest groups based on how much money those politicians receive. However, he says when it comes to polarizing topics like abortion or gun rights, it’s much less likely.

“It’s much more likely that Ron Johnson is pro-gun and that’s his position,” Lee said. “So he happens to benefit from it in contributions. As opposed to Ron Johnson being an amoral politician who says, ‘I’ll grab the money and run and that’s why I won’t change my position on guns.’ I think it’s authentically felt by politicians on both sides of that position.”

Career Contributions for Wisconsin Politicians
Despite being out of politics for over three years, Paul Ryan still tops the list for direct campaign contributions from the NRA. Johnson is second.

To Lee, on topics like abortion or gun rights, there are voters who will select a candidate solely based on their view on that issue.

Gun Control money for Wisconsin Politicians
Gun Control money is spent far less on politicians like Tammy Baldwin. Mordecai Lee believes the gun control lobby being less organized than the NRA has led to this disparity in spending on the same topic.

“They’re single issue voters,” Lee said. “They care about it. So the fact that there are a lot of contributions that come from people who are pro-guns or special interest groups that are pro-guns, it shouldn’t surprise us because it reflects that group of people.”

Because of that, Lee says, pro-gun politicians aren’t typically more motivated by the influence of pro-gun groups.

“In politics, money is everything,” Lee said. “Politicians are acutely aware they need money for a successful campaign. But the issues of guns and probably abortion are the exceptions in American politics. You don’t have politicians who say, 'well I’ll decide to be pro-gun so I can get the money.' It’s usually the other way. A politician is right of center generally for gun rights and they get rewarded for their already existing position of getting those kinds of contributions.”

Senator Johnson’s team provided a statement on whether the contributions from the NRA influence his voting or impact his approach to being a lawmaker for the State of Wisconsin:

“The senator appreciates the support that people offer but that support never impacts his views on issues or how he votes. On the other hand Democrat Majority Leader Schumer, after calling for unity, just blocked school safety legislation that Democrats and Republicans passed unanimously out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee twice. Responsibility for the horrific and inhumane attack in Texas lies solely with the attacker, not any law abiding citizens who exercise their constitutional rights.”

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip