No more worrying about the corrupting effect of money in politics at the New York Times – as long as the loot is used to fight gun rights, state by state. Before President Obama’s executive actions on gun control announced Tuesday morning, Times reporter Eric Lichtblau helped paved the way, celebrating a billionaire’s vast political reach on Monday’s front page in “Battleground Shifts In Debate On Gun Control -- Obama Is Set To Act -- Buoyed With New Cash, Groups Notch Small Wins vs. N.R.A.”
The moneyman in this case would be former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
(Previously, another Times reporter, Michael Barbaro, had promoted Bloomberg's bankrolling of an earlier anti-gun crusade on a Sunday front page in March 2013. Barbaro, who once harassed Wal-Mart for some small donations to conservative groups, didn't question whether big-money Bloomberg was playing an unfairly influential role by trying to buy legislation that he favored.)
On Monday, Lichtblau wrote:
With President Obama poised to act on his own authority to try to stem gun violence, his gun control allies are using big-money donors and shifting tactics to try to remake the political landscape in the national gun debate, challenging and sometimes even besting the powerful National Rifle Association in state-by-state battles.
The newfound momentum reflects a strategy to steer clear of a Republican-led Congress that has proved unwilling to touch existing federal gun laws after years of intense lobbying on both sides of the debate.
With tens of millions of dollars to spend thanks to backers like Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, gun control groups have secured a number of surprising recent successes in Connecticut, Delaware and elsewhere. And they are now looking to state and local officials to win approval for tougher background checks and other measures from Nevada to Maine.
The N.R.A. remains the dominant force in much of the country, spending more than $32.5 million last year on campaigns and lobbying. It has shown continued muscle in stopping new restrictions and loosening existing ones in many localities. But the political landscape has become more hotly contested as a result of the gun control groups’ shift in focus and infusion of cash, operatives on both sides say. The axiom that gun control is a losing political issue does not always hold true anymore.
The organization Everytown for Gun Safety -- which received $36 million in contributions last year, with the biggest chunk coming from Mr. Bloomberg -- has eclipsed a number of older gun control groups in publicity and influence. In its latest push, the group is funding an ad campaign for players from the National Basketball Association to speak out against gun violence.
(Indeed, the NYT pushed the NBA’s new gun control campaign both on the front page and on the front of the Sports section.)
Lichtblau acted mostly as a public relation conduit for the group:
The group, created in 2014 after the slaughter in 2012 of 26 children and adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., says its supporters have now grown to three million nationwide, including survivors of shootings, mayors, police officers, celebrities, and rank-and-file supporters. It has chapters in all 50 states, with registered lobbyists in 31 of them, adopting a structure used to great effectiveness by the N.R.A. itself. Mr. Bloomberg has pledged to spend at least $50 million of his own money in the group’s push for tougher gun restrictions -- a level of spending that Jennifer Baker, an N.R.A. official, called “obscene.”
Lichtblau listed all the great gun control victories coming out of the states.
The growing importance of state gun laws was made clear last month when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut announced that he would act on his own to bar anyone on the government’s terrorism watch lists from buying a gun. Congress refused to take that step nationwide.
Gun control supporters gained another big win in Virginia last month when the state’s attorney general, Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, barred anyone who holds a concealed-handgun permit in 25 other states from using it to carry a firearm in Virginia.
In the closing weeks of his race and two other campaigns in Virginia that hinged on guns, the N.R.A. and gun control groups all sent people to the local districts to rally voters. Candidates backed by the N.R.A. won both of the other races, helping Republicans hold a majority in the State Senate. The N.R.A. saw the results as a rebuke of Mr. Bloomberg’s organization.
“They got their butts kicked in Virginia,” Ms. Baker said. “You spend all that money, and all you have to show for it is one win? That’s complete and utter failure.”
The first substantive criticism in the story did not come until paragraph 25 of 36.
Everytown’s big footprint, however, worries even some fellow gun control advocates. They say some local officials in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and elsewhere have resented the perception of a high-profile, billionaire liberal like Mr. Bloomberg trying to change their gun laws.
The strategy carries risks. The N.R.A. has five million members and boasts of a political base that is willing to turn out at the polls for a single issue: gun control.