The amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and attached to a defense spending bill, rallied lawmakers who have received significant donations over their careers from gun-related issue organizations.
Thune is a particular favorite of gun rights groups. Only two sitting senators, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), have received more money from these organizations than Thune. The chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, Thune has hauled in $62,300 over his career from groups such as the National Rifle Association -- one of the top 100 all-time spenders in federal politics -- and the Gun Owners of America. The NRA urged a "yes" vote on Thune's amendment, according to the Washington Post.
During the 2008 election cycle, President Barack Obama actually attracted more of the gun lobby's money ($29,400) than Thune, who did not even make the top 20 recipients list that cycle. (For more information about CRP's methodology for presidential candidates' ideological contributions, please see a footnote below.) But only two lawmakers -- Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) -- have taken in more than Thune so far this year.
Since 1989, 86 percent of pro-gun groups' donations have gone to GOP candidates.
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Support for easing gun control restrictions is not only a Republican cause, however. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 19 other Democrats supported Thune's amendment, which fell two votes short of the 60 required for passage.
Although Reid defied other high-ranking members of his caucus by supporting Thune -- Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York, for example -- the majority leader has never been a favorite of gun groups. Reid has only taken $11,000 from gun rights organizations such as the NRA over the past two decades. Nor has the other side of the gun debate shown him much attention: Reid has only received $1,000 from gun control advocates.
Gun control groups generally spend far less than their opponents, contributing a total of $57,900 to federal candidates last cycle. Four-fifths of that total came from a single group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
No lawmaker has ever received more from gun control groups than Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), but even she has only managed to collect $52,700 -- an amount that would barely place her on the NRA's all-time top 20 recipients list. Schumer, the leading Senate recipient of gun control cash, has taken $21,860. Durbin's receipts total $8,800.
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Pro-gun groups, on the other hand, are Washington heavyweights, spending more than $2.4 million in the 2008 cycle alone. Just during his presidential campaign, McCain received $452,200 from gun rights groups. The gun rights lobby's undisputed leader, the NRA, gave $1.2 million to 60 Democratic candidates and 188 Republican candidates between 2007 and 2008.
So far during this session of Congress, gun issues have not been main events, but rather, sideshows. A bill allowing the District of Columbia to win representation in the House was expected to pass until Republicans and some centrist Democrats conditioned the legislation on easing the District's strict gun laws. This bill subsequently went down to defeat. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had better luck attaching an amendment allowing concealed guns in national parks to a credit card reform bill that Congress approved in May.
Coburn, one of the Senate's most vocal pro-gun voices, has received $26,500 from gun rights organizations over his career. This total places him near the middle of the pack in terms of career receipts from the gun lobby.
Note: Our standard methodology for determining industry and ideological giving includes contributions from individuals and political action committees. But because some presidential candidates eschew donations from PACs in the presidential race, we've calculated all presidential candidates' ideological numbers (donations from gun-related groups, in this case) by including contributions from individuals who have given the majority of their money to the PACs of either gun control supporters or opponents, among all of their contributions to ideological organizations.