Pro-Gun Money Fills Ohio Campaign Coffers
Download full report (including appendix).
In 2011, Ohio House Majority Whip John Adams sponsored a bill that would have made it easier to pass gun licenses from one state to another and to renew concealed handgun licenses. It passed the House, but stalled in the Senate. In 2008, he sponsored a controversial “Stand Your Ground”-type law facing new scrutiny after the murder in Florida of Trayvon Martin.
Adams has a history of supporting legislation that makes it easier to get a gun and expands where guns can be carried and, in the case of Stand Your Ground, who you can shoot. And he’s been rewarded for this with campaign contributions from gun interests.
In fact, Adams is the top recipient of gun industry money in Ohio’s current legislature, according to Public Campaign analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Ohio Secretary of State. Since 2000, he has received $23,942 from gun interests for his campaigns for office. He’s also the Ohio chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial conservative organization that drafted the model “Stand Your Ground” law that was introduced, in various iterations, in state legislatures across the country.
Ever since the Florida controversy and the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin, there’s been a renewed debate about access to guns—and the fear many politicians have of the National Rifle Association (NRA) when it comes to passing sensible gun legislation.
Like Congress and state representatives across the country, Ohio lawmakers have received big bucks from gun industry donors over the years, and analysis of campaign contributions to supporters of pro-gun legislation show state legislators are rewarded for their votes.
Pro-gun interests—including groups like the NRA, Ohio Gun Collectors Association, and Gun Owners of America—have spent nearly $400,000 on contributions to Ohio politicians since the 1996 cycle. Eighty-nine percent ($346,861) of those contributions have gone to Republican candidates or committees, compared to $32,135 to Democratic candidates.
The biggest campaign contributor among gun interests has been The Ohio Gun Collectors Association, which has given at least $165,361. The NRA has given at least $140,088. Other gun groups spending money in the state to influence politicians include the Gun Owners of America ($36,573) and the Buckeye Firearms Association ($22,729).
Rep. John Adams isn’t the only member of legislative leadership with gun industry ties.
- Senate President Thomas Niehaus (R-14) has received $3,350 from gun interests, including $500 contributions in 2011 from both the NRA and the Buckeye Firearms Association. He was a co-sponsor of Ohio’s 2008 “Stand Your Ground” law and voted with the Buckeye Firearms Association 13 out of 13 times since being in office.
- Senate Majority Leader Tom Patton (R-24) has received $6,125 from gun interests. He co-sponsored Ohio’s 2008 “Stand Your Ground” law and has voted with the Buckeye Firearms Association 13 times.
- House Speaker William G. Batchelder (R-69) has received $5,275 from gun interests. He co-sponsored the 2008 “Stand Your Ground” bill and a 2011 bill to allow guns in bars (SB 17). He has voted with the Buckeye Firearms Association 7 times since he has been in office.
These totals don’t include any outside spending by gun rights groups to help elect Ohio politicians over the years, so these numbers could be significantly higher.
Stand Your Ground
In 2008, the Ohio legislature passed a variation of ALEC’s model “Stand Your Ground” law that makes it legal for a person to lethally shoot someone in the name of self-defense, even if the shooter has the opportunity to remove himself from the confrontation by driving away or otherwise safely leaving the area, when the shooter is in a vehicle belonging to himself or a family member.
The law also created a presumption that a shooting is legal if the victim unlawfully entered the shooter’s dwelling or vehicle, regardless of whether anyone was in actual danger. It’s a less extreme version of the controversial Florida law, which eliminates a shooter’s duty to retreat from any location he has a right to be, but as reported in March, “Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said the organization has had discussions with Republican lawmakers about introducing a [full] Stand Your Ground law in Ohio.”
Lawmakers who voted for the original legislation, supported by gun groups, have been rewarded for their votes: Ohio legislative leaders and co-sponsors of the Stand Your Ground bill (including former lawmakers) have taken at least $145,232 from pro-gun interests.
- In the House, the 73 legislators who voted for Stand Your Ground took 30 times more campaign money on average from gun interests than the 23 legislators who voted against the bill. In total, that’s $118,045 to $1,250.
- In the Senate, the 25 legislators who voted for Stand Your Ground took 41 times more campaign money on average from gun interests than the seven legislators who voted against. In total, that’s $44,212 to $300.
Critics of this report may argue that the campaign contributions chronicled here amount to a small fraction of the money in state politics and that the contributors are not trying to persuade already supportive lawmakers to back their views. They are right on both accounts, but should they make these arguments, they will miss the point. The reality is that the victims of gun violence in America are overwhelmingly from low income communities— communities that are not the source of campaign contributions for candidates for state office in Ohio.
The debate on this issue is narrowed by the fact that there is an imbalance in incentives for lawmakers: support the types of gun laws described in this report and receive campaign contributions or oppose them and receive little or none. In a cash-and-carry campaign finance system, too many Americans are voiceless on these, and other, important issues.
Public policy is too often influenced by the wealthy special interests spending big money to get their preferred candidates elected. When it comes to legislation that impacts public safety, our pay-to-play political system becomes even more perverse.
1. ALEC in Ohio, Report by People for the American Way, Progress Ohio, Common Cause, and ALEC Exposed. Available online at http://site.pfaw.org/pdf/ALEC-in-Ohio.pdf.
2. Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Action Center: http://buckeyefirearms.capwiz.com/bio/id/30541.
3. Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Action Center: http://buckeyefirearms.capwiz.com/buckeyefirearms/bio/id/132197.
4. Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Action Center: http://buckeyefirearms.capwiz.com/buckeyefirearms/bio/id/155697.
5. “Ohio might pursue stand your ground legislation,” Newark Advocate, March 27, 2012.