Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Richard Burr of North Carolina speak following a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats on Tuesday. Andrew Harnik AP
Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Richard Burr of North Carolina speak following a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats on Tuesday. Andrew Harnik AP

Morning Newsletter

NC senators got more money from the NRA than most lawmakers. Here’s why.

By Jim Morrill And and Brian Murphy

February 15, 2018 10:38 AM

In the wake of Wednesday’s deadly school shooting in Florida, a report finds that North Carolina’s two U.S. senators were among the top beneficiaries of money from the National Rifle Association.

Only one of the 535 members of Congress has gotten more help from the NRA than Republican Sen. Richard Burr, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Only three, including Burr, got more than GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.

NRA groups spent nearly $7 million on behalf of Burr, according to the report, updated after Wednesday’s shooting. That includes $5.6 million that NRA groups spent in 2016 against his Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross. That was more than the NRA spent against any 2016 candidate with the exception of Hillary Clinton.

And Tillis has gotten $4.5 million in help, including independent expenditures against his 2014 opponent, then-incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan.

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In both years North Carolina was a key in the battle for the U.S. Senate. The Tillis-Hagan race saw more than $100 million in spending, making it at the time the most expensive congressional race ever.

On Thursday Burr declined to say whether he thinks assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in Wednesday’s shooting should be banned, or their magazines limited.

“I’ll leave it up to investigators to finish their investigation,” he said.

Pressed on whether gun control should at least be discussed, he said, “I’ll wait until they come out with their full report.”

It was easy for the NRA to pick sides. Burr and Tillis each had perfect scores on NRA-backed legislation. The group gave Hagan a grade of D+, and Ross an F.

Nationally, the NRA spent more than $54 million in 2016, most in the form of independent expenditures on TV ads, mailings and phone banks.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks about immigration on Monday.
Alex Brandon AP

Gun control groups such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety – gave a total of $1.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group gave Ross $32,000 and $13,000 to U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat.

The AR-15 assault rifle is commonly used in mass shootings in the United States. Here's a closer look at the weapon. The New York Times

“(Burr) deeply believes we must prevent guns from getting into the hands of those seeking to do harm but we must do so without violating the rights of law-abiding Americans,” spokesman Ben Khouri said in an email. “He has supported strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System as well as numerous mental health bills during his time in Congress.”

“Please keep the victims, their families, first responders and the community in your thoughts and prayers,” Tillis tweeted after the shooting.

Last fall, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Burr sidestepped a question on changes to gun laws while speaking to reporters. “We can have that discussion at another time,” he said. “But it’s a typical political tactic by some on the left.”

Last fall Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents western North Carolina, said the Las Vegas shooting shouldn’t even spark a debate on gun restrictions. “It appears that mental illness and perhaps other reasons that we don’t even know right now created a very tragic and horrific act,” he said at the time. “Does it prompt a gun control debate? I don’t think so.”

In 2015 Burr co-sponsored a concealed-carry reciprocity bill, which would have allowed people with permits to carry concealed weapons in one state to do so in another that doesn’t prohibit the weapons.

Tillis also has an A+ rating, based in part on his support for concealed carry laws and his opposition to former President Barack Obama’s push for a universal background check system.

Students and faculty talk about the moments when a shooter entered Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire. Al Diaz, Miami Herald Staff

In 2016 the NRA ran a series of TV ads against Ross, accusing her of voting against gun rights and “personal liberty” as a North Carolina legislator. The $5.6 million it spent against Ross was twice as much as it spent on any other congressional candidate. It also was part of $55 million in outside spending in the N.C. race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“When the polls got close, there was more and more outside money that came in because this was a race that could flip control of the U.S. Senate,” Ross said last fall. “Outside money made a difference in my race and it makes a difference in all the races.”

The report by the Center for Responsive Politics also found:

▪ Of the 535 members of Congress, only Sen. John McCain has received more NRA help than Burr. He got $7.7 million, largely during his 2008 run for the White House against Obama.

▪ Rep. Walter Jones of Pitt County was North Carolina’s biggest House beneficiary of NRA money. It gave him or spent on his behalf more than $56,000.

▪ Next in NRA help was Rep. Patrick McHenry of Lincoln County, who got $43,000.

▪ None of the three Democrats in the N.C. delegation got anything.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill