Media are citing the large sum of money the National Rifle Association spent during the 2012 election as evidence of its power, and ignoring the fact that nearly all of that money went to support candidates who lost.
These reports, which come as the NRA prepares to respond to public demands for new gun laws in light of the Newtown massacre, further a years-old media mythexaggerating the NRA's influence on electoral politics.
For example, in a December 19 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that "The NRA spent $18 million to help elect candidates of both parties to Congress in the 2012 elections, placing it among the top 20 in interest-group election spending, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics." CNN offered a similar report the same day.
In a December 20 New York Times op-ed, former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter urged Republicans to "free themselves from the NRA protection racket," writing that "the NRA spent almost $19 million in the last federal election cycle. This money is not just spent to beat Democrats but also to beat Republicans who don't toe the line."
None of these reports noted that of the more than $18 million the NRA spent on independent expenditures during the 2012 election season, 95 percent of those dollars were spent on races in which their preferred candidate lost, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. Indeed, roughly two thirds of the group's total election spending came in support of their failed "all-in" campaign to defeat President Obama.
According to the logic of these media reports, Restore Our Future, the super PAC established to support Mitt Romney's presidential run, is one of the most powerful organizations in politics. The group spent more than $150 million during the 2012 election cycle - all of it in support of a losing candidate.
In support of their narrative of the NRA's electoral power, the Journal reported:
One of the NRA's biggest successes was the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), a target of the NRA for years. When Mr. Lugar was challenged earlier this year in a primary, the NRA endorsed Mr. Lugar's opponent and ran television ads against the incumbent Republican.
"He's become the only Republican candidate in Indiana with an F rating from the NRA,'' one ad said of Mr. Lugar. "Time to elect a senator who will protect our rights."
Although Mr. Lugar's defeat in the primary had many causes, it served as a reminder of the NRA's power. "Sen. Lugar is the last Republican member of the Senate to support the assault weapons ban, and the NRA spent a great deal of money last spring to make sure that was case," said Andy Fisher, the senator's spokesman.
But the Journal did not note that Richard Mourdock, the Republican the NRA supported in the primary, was defeated in the general election.
That's no coincidence - the NRA's top targeted Senate candidates lost across the country. The NRA spent more than $100,000 in seven general election races. On Election Day, their preferred candidate lost in six of those races, often by healthy margins. Similarly, of the 26 members of the House of Representatives who lost on Election Day, 18 were endorsed by the NRA.