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Gun groups raising unprecedented cash in 2013

Newtown shootings, congressional firearms control proposals providing impetus

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Activists on both sides of the firearm debate have drastically ratcheted up their political spending in the aftermath of the deadly mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., as Congress fought over gun control proposals.

Together, newly formed super PACs launched by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought in about $8.6 million during the first half of the year, a Center for Public Integrity review of federal records shows.

While gun rights advocates have long been a robust and deep-pocketed political machine, this big money explosion is an unprecedented phenomenon on the gun control side. In any of the last three federal election cycles, gun control interest group spending did not top $70,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The National Rifle Association has also had a big year, raising more than three times the money this year compared to the same time frame in 2011, the Center’s analysis indicates.

So, too, has the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm industry trade association based in Newtown — where 20 children and six adults were shot and killed in December — has raised nearly $188,000 through its PAC this year, nearly six times its receipts at the same point in the 2012 cycle.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC formed by Giffords following the Newtown elementary school shooting, raised more than $6.6 million from the beginning of January through the end of June, according to new Federal Election Commission filings. That was more than any other super PAC raised during that period.

Additionally, Bloomberg has provided his group, Independence USA PAC, with more than $2 million during the same period. He is the group’s only funder.

Meanwhile, the NRA’s political action committee amassed nearly $7.1 million in contributions so far this year — an upsurge from $4.8 million this time last year and $2.4 in 2011 — according to the group’s most recent FEC filing.

As super PACs, Americans for Responsible Solutions and Independence USA PAC may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, but since the NRA’s primary political arm is a traditional PAC, the size the donations it may accept is limited.

But the PAC may donate directly to politicians — and does frequently. The NRA’s PAC has contributed $178,000 though the first six months of the year to candidates who support gun rights.

Following the Newton massacre, Giffords’ group launched ad campaigns to pressure members of Congress to expand background checks, but the measure failed in the Senate. Giffords has been pushing for stricter regulations on firearms ever since she was shot at a town hall in Arizona back in January 2011.

The group, which also has a 501(c)(4) nonprofit arm, still has $4.8 million left in the bank through June 30. About half of the money the super PAC has received so far came from individual donations of less than $200.

But Americans for Responsible Solutions was also buoyed by a handful of six-figure contributions. The group’s largest donor this period was CEO Salesforce.com Marc Benioff, a bundler for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, who gave $500,000.

The law firm of Steve Mostyn, a major Democratic donor and American for Responsible Solutions’ treasurer, contributed $250,000 to the group, as did Napster co-founder Sean Parker.

Giffords’ super PAC also received $250,000 from Bloomberg, who has been a leading figure in the gun control debate.

Bloomberg’s super PAC has been most active this year in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district special election, spending more than $2.2 million supporting Democrat Robin Kelly, who won the seat, or advocating against her opponents.

While the NRA enjoyed a fundraising blitz this year, a handful of lesser-known gun rights advocates have seen minimal changes in their fundraising hauls.

Gun Owners of America raised nearly $22,000 from Jan. 1 through June 30 — about $6,000 less than what the committee had raised this time last year.

The PAC arm of Safari International Club, a nonprofit that supports hunters’ rights and wildlife conservation, raised $324,000 this year —$86,000 of which it contributed to Hunter’s Defense Fund, the club’s super PAC arm formed in February.

National Association for Gun Rights collected a measly $80 this year through its political action committee, while bulk of its $23,000 in disbursements was given to the campaigns of pro-gun candidates.

But the Virginia-based group’s lobbying arm spent more than $3 million this past quarter to advocate against dozens of gun control bills, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.