North Carolina’s U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, are hardly among the most prominent members of Congress. They tend to follow their Republican leaders and keep a low profile. But in one area, both truly stand out. They rank near the top in Congress when it comes to getting help from the National Rifle Association.
Burr is No. 2 in Congress. Tillis is No. 4. NRA groups have spent nearly $7 million on behalf of Burr. Tillis has gotten $4.5 million in help.
Topping this list should be an embarrassment to both senators. It’s certainly an embarrassment to North Carolina, especially in the aftermath of 58 people slaughtered and 50 still in critical condition after a gunman opened fire with assault rifles on an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.
With the release of these rankings, both senators are stamped as complicit in the NRA’s obstinate and increasingly dangerous opposition to sane limits on gun purchases and an outright ban on assault rifles. On Wednesday, The New York Time posted the top NRA beneficiaries in Congress under the headline, “Thoughts and prayers and NRA funding.” Next to the top 10 in the Senate and Congress, the Times list included the members comments after the Las Vegas shooting.
From Burr. “My heart is with the people of Las Vegas and their first responders today. This morning’s tragic violence has absolutely no place here in America.”
From Tillis: “Susan and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of the victims of this horrific and senseless tragedy in Las Vegas.”
Not a word, of course, about Congress taking any action to eliminate the sale of assault rifles or passing any controls on guns.
Most of the NRA money wasn’t donated directly to the senators. It was spent on ads tearing down their opponents. NRA groups spent $5.6 million attacking Burr’s 2016 opponent, former Democratic state lawmaker and state ACLU head Deborah Ross. Tillis benefited from independent expenditures by NRA groups against his 2014 opponent, then-incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan.
The NRA likes the way North Carolina’s senators vote on – usually against – gun laws. Both have perfect scores on NRA-backed legislation. But that rating can be claimed by many GOP senators. What made Burr and Tillis especially appealing to the NRA was that their races in a swing state could determine control of the Senate. The group focused on North Carolina as a key to ensuring that Senate would do its will under Republican control.
It’s ironic that Burr heads the Senate Intelligence Committee that is investigating Russian attempts to shape the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election with misinformation. For Burr is is the No. 2 beneficiary of a group that also tries to affect election results by fear mongering against candidates who would vote for limits on guns that most Americans support.
Thanks to campaign funding disclosure laws, no probe is needed to determine the NRA’s role in trying to shape the outcome of North Carolina’s last two U.S. Senate elections. After topping the list of NRA beneficiaries, Burr and Tillis should follow up their condolences to the Las Vegas victims with a pledge to refuse further support from the NRA. But that’s about as likely to happen as Congress taking any significant action to reduce gun violence.