Archive for November, 2017

The Influence of the Gun Lobby

Friday, November 17th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Within just 35 days the country has seen two of the most deadly shootings in modern U.S. history, with 58 people dead in Las Vegas and a further 26 killed just five weeks later in a Texas church. Unlike Vegas however, the recent atrocity in Texas has in a tragic fashion ignited both sides of the pro and anti-gun lobby in the U.S. Whilst advocacy groups promoting greater gun controls have seen the tragedy to exemplify the need for greater controls and vetting, the NRA and pro-gun lobby found a voice in by-stander Stephen Willeford, the NRA member who used his training to conceal himself and fire shots back at the rampaging gunman. Speaking on the NRA’s online television network, the Conservative talk show host Grant Stinchfield illustrated the NRA’s take on events, claiming that ‘Sutherland Springs needed a brave, calm gun owner, an NRA instructor to stop the rampage of a deranged monster’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly however, recent events have not only poured fuel on the overall ‘gun debate’ across the United States, but so too the influence of the NRA and pro-gun lobby. In 2016 the NRA spent big, a massive $419 million, increasing its 2015 total by over $100 million. Critics of the NRA have particularly taken issue at the groups $140 million spending on legislative programs and public affairs, a massive $75 million increase, and representing what critics see as the growing lobbying efforts and campaign contributions which have come to represent a key part of the NRA’s political power. Open Secrets reported the electoral impact of the NRA’s campaign contributions, which focused the group’s resources on a select few tight races, spending big in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana.

As the President faces pressure in the wake of Las Vegas and Texas, his own ties with the NRA have come under spotlight. Trump received the earliest ever endorsement for a Republican presidential contender, and proudly accepted the organization’s support when he spoke to the NRA convention in Kentucky, stating in his speech that ‘the second amendment is under threat like never before’. The NRA’s backing of Trump has gone far beyond convention speeches; in 2016 the group spent a huge $30.3 million supporting the President’s campaign, over half of the $12.5 million spent previously on Romney’s 2012 campaign. Spending over $1 million to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, it’s clear that beyond Congress and the President, the NRA has also firmly set its sights on influence in the courts, as McConnell leads a huge push to fill the record-breaking number of federal court vacancies. Endorsing nominees who ‘stand for gun rights’, the group clearly sees pro-gun judges as key to the long-term protection of gun rights. Despite clear success in candidate endorsement, there has been little tangible return on investment so far this year, with a failure to push votes on a measure to deregulate gun silencers, and a spate bill to loosen concealed carry permit requirements. Whilst at first sight it may appear the group faces a defensive lobbying campaign in the months’ to come, the NRA is clearly fighting on the offensive in its efforts to establish long term support across the nation’s power bases.

Tuesday’s Election: A Victory for the Cannabis Lobby

Friday, November 10th, 2017 by Chris Orange

Tuesday saw the Democrats celebrate decisive victories in Virginia and New Jersey’s governor elections, whilst also cutting GOP majorities in statehouses across the country. Democrats have hailed the results as a ‘liberal backlash’ against President Trump, but beyond the Democrat party, the marijuana lobby has also seen this weeks’ results as cause for celebration.

Both newly elected Governors, Ralph Northam of Virginia, and Phil Murphy in New Jersey, have spoken out strongly in favor of Cannabis reform. Murphey has openly stated his intention to sign legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, using his primary night victory speech to clarify his intentions once again, Ralph Northam, whilst not as clear on his position to recreational use, has nevertheless vocally stated his support for decriminalization, citing it as key ‘racial justice issue’. Whilst legalization attempts in Virginia may have failed in 2015, the marijuana lobby will see Northam’s election as a step forward to future reform efforts in the state.  Beyond the governor elections, voters in Detroit approved two ballot questions which will ease regulation on medical marijuana, and in California all seven local marijuana business measures put to voters were also given the green light.

With recreational use now legalized in eight states (and Washington D.C.), and medical use approved in 30 states, the success of cannabis reform groups is undeniable, and the relevance of the industry is set to continue to grow. Marijuana Business Daily has predicted that industry retail sales will hit over $6.1 billion this year, and whilst the industry has been weary of the Trump administration’s stance, investment in cannabis related firms is set to continue to grow rapidly. Greenwave Advisors have projected retail sales to grow by an eye watering $30 billion by 2021, and with growers scaling-up their operations, regulatory challenges will continue to manifest. Whilst individuals close to Trump, such as Attorney Jeff Sessions, have talked tough on cannabis use, those in the industry are hoping that through harnessing growingly liberal public attitudes, such a crackdown will become politically toxic. Not only this, but there is also a hope that the financial realities of a regressive shift on enforcement will also deter such actions. It’s clear nevertheless that the grassroots advocacy strategy pursued by pro-reform groups, and the harnessing of social media platforms to tap into public support, demonstrates the effectiveness such an approach can yield.

FARA Enforcement, or Lack there of

Friday, November 3rd, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Since the 2016 Presidential campaign, the influence of ‘foreign bodies’ within the U.S. political system has been in the spotlight like never before, and the indictment of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates this week is only set to further fuel speculation in the coming weeks. The pair stand accused of hiding their work, and money received, from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. While the law requires anyone that carries out ‘political activities’ for a foreign government or party to disclose this to the Justice Department, enforcement has been lax. Between 1966 and 2015 the Department of Justice bought just seven criminal FARA cases. Failure to properly enforce the law has led shadow lobbying, most notably on behalf of foreign governments, to become one of Washington’s worst kept secrets. But with such a high-profile indictment case, foreign lobbyists will feel the heat as prosecutors seek to dig deeper into the issue.

Bloomberg reported that the current Foreign Agent Registration Act database lists a total of 211 “foreign principals” from Russia that have hired the services of U.S. lobbying, public relations and law firms to represent them. Records also show “78 from Ukraine, 54 from Georgia, 44 from Azerbaijan, 34 from Kazakhstan and 19 from Uzbekistan” in what Bloomberg describes as the “avalanche” of post-Soviet cash that has hit Washington in the last two decades.

Manafort and Gates made more than $75 million working for Yanukovych and his Party of Regions “between ‘at least 2006 and 2015.’ Yanukovych is often called a pro-Russian leader, and while he tried to steer a middle course for Ukraine between ties to Russia and the European Union, his personal sympathies were with the like-minded regime of Vladimir Putin.” Tony Podesta’s the Podesta Group was also linked to Yanukovych, referred to as “Company B” in the indictment.