By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
In its efforts to curry favor at the statehouse, a gun-control group in Vermont sent campaign donations to lawmakers of all parties and positions — even to state lawmakers with A ratings from the NRA.
A campaign finance disclosure form filed on Wednesday with the secretary of state revealed that Gun Sense Vermont, a well-funded special interest group seeking background checks on gun purchases, sent money to lawmakers with top NRA endorsements.
CONFUSING CONTRIBUTIONS: Gun Sense Vermont, a gun-control group advocating universal background checks, donated money to state lawmakers with A ratings from the National Rifle Association.
Among the 91 candidates receiving donations from Gun Sense in September were state Rep. John Moran, D-Wardsboro, and state Sens. Bill Doyle, R-Washington, and Jeanette White, D-Windham, all of whom boast an A rating or better, according to the NRA Political Victory Fund website.
Doyle, who carries an A+ rating, received $300 from Gun Sense. White and Moran, who have A ratings, received $500 and $100, respectively.
The logic behind Gun Sense’s contributions has confused gun-rights advocates and even some lawmakers.
“We know for certain that there are candidates who got a check who are not in support of (Gun Sense’s) agenda,” Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, told Vermont Watchdog.
Hughes said in an email that some candidates had no idea why they received the donations. He suggested those individuals could return the money or perhaps “endorse the check over to a local fish and game club, where the funds would get put to good use.”
At least one lawmaker refused the money.
“I returned the check, I did not deposit it,” Moran told Vermont Watchdog.
Moran said he hasn’t taken money from gun interest groups on either side of the question and prefers to keep it that way.
Doyle and White could not immediately be reached for comment.
In May, Gun Sense Vermont announced it would throw all its lobbying muscle behind legislation to make background checks mandatory for all guns purchased in the state of Vermont. The group has plenty of muscle. In the quarter ending July 25, Gun Sense paid $39,000 for lobbyists, outspending corporate giants Anheuser-Busch, Comcast, Altria and Green Mountain Power.
Leaders at the gun-control group cite a survey that says 81 percent of likely voters in Vermont support background checks. While federal gun background checks already exist, the group has not explained how state background checks could work without the government creating a database of purchases — in essence, a gun registry. Registration of guns is highly unpopular with gun owners.
Eddie Garcia, founder of the Vermont Citizens Defense League, said Gun Sense Vermont intentionally keeps such information from the public. Garcia said background checks already exist at the federal level as a partnership between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI.
“You’ll get the impression talking to these people that there are no background checks of any kind. … (But) there are background checks. If you go to a gun store and buy a gun, you do a federal NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System),” he said.
“You fill out the ATF form 4473, and they give you an instant background check right there, and you either clear, are delayed or are denied.”
Gun Sense’s proposal, Garcia said, would expand background checks to include all sales of firearms, even between private individuals. Gun Sense has yet to release details of its proposed legislation.
Many state leaders, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, say new gun legislation is not necessary. At a scheduled appearance this week, Vermont Watchdog spoke with the governor to ask where he stands on universal background checks.
“My view about gun legislation has been pretty clear and consistent throughout my political career. I believe that the laws we have in Vermont are the one’s we should keep,” he said.
Gun Sense President Ann Braden refused to offer comment.
Contact Bruce Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org