Lies, Damn Lies, and CNN Statistics

So, I listened this weekend to some of the speeches in the “March for Our Lives” protest against guns, and heard a lot of criticism of the National Rifle Association for buying votes through its enormous campaign contributions. Then I saw this article published on the CNN website that purports to explain why the NRA holds so much sway in Congress. States CNN:

While large industries such as defense, health care and finance give more to federal candidates, so-called “single-issue” groups have always been a bit different. For them, it’s not necessarily as much about outspending and outflanking other industry powers as it is how they compare with the other side — those advocating the opposite position.

By that measure, the NRA and its allies aren’t just winning, they’ve been dominating for years.

In the 2018 election cycle so far, gun rights groups, including the NRA, have outspent the competition more than 40 to 1.

Gun rights groups have made nearly $600,000 in direct contributions and independent expenditures on behalf of congressional candidates, the data shows. Gun control groups? Barely $14,000.

Graphic credit: CNN

I don’t have a (hunting) dog in this fight. I don’t own a handgun; indeed, I have never shot a gun but once in my life. I don’t have a problem with enacting measures to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, crazy people and wife beaters. On the other hand, if I felt the need to defend myself, I’d want to make sure that my right to purchase a Dirty Harry-worthy .44 Magnum wasn’t infringed in any way. Call me a middle-of-the-roader on this issue.

So, when I heard the refrain that the “gun lobby” spreads around far more money than gun control advocates do, I had no reason not to believe it. What else would explain their political power?

Then I came across this article published by Radio IQ. Virginia public radio is hardly part of the NRA fan club. But, drawing upon data from the Virginia Public Access Project, Radio IQ drew a radically different conclusion regarding money in Virginia politics.

During last year’s state election, gun rights groups and firearms dealers gave more than $160,000 in campaign contributions. That’s according to an analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project. It’s a good chunk of change, and it was directed largely at members of the General Assembly who sit on committees that routinely stop gun control legislation. But groups that advocate for gun control donated more than $2.4 million, mostly to statewide candidates.

“One of the myths of politics is the idea that NRA money is decisive,” according to Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington. He says the real power of the NRA is not the campaign contributions. It’s the activists who show up at rallies and contact lawmakers and are, essentially, single-issue voters.

(Last year wasn’t a fluke, by the way. VPAP records show that gun control advocates have outspent gun rights advocates in Virginia political races since 1996-97 by $8.1 million to $1.3 million.)

Quoting national statistics, CNN says the NRA outspends opponents 40 to 1. Quoting state statistics, Radio IQ says opponents outspend the NRA by 15 to 1. That’s quite a discrepancy.

I consulted the database to see if I could explain the diametrically opposed results. For the 2017-2018 election cycle, OpenSecrets says that gun rights groups contributed $808,000 to federal candidates, parties, and outside groups, while gun control groups contributed a mere $152,000. That’s a spending gap, but closer to 5 to 1 than 40 to 1.

Delving a bit deeper, we see that the Giffords PAC, named after shooting victim Congressman Gabbie Giffords, was the only major contributor listed for the gun control groups. It turns out that the big gun-control groups — Everytown for Gun Safety, the Giffords PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence — contributed heavily to Virginia state races — primarily  Governor Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. I would conjecture that the same groups have spent heavily in other state groups as part of a strategy of influencing state elections rather than federal elections.

In other words, CNN told only part of the story. Its article focused on federal elections exclusively, ignoring the vast sums poured into Virginia and possibly other state elections. I don’t know if CNN was consciously manipulating the truth, or if it was just incredibly sloppy. But I do know this: Far from being “the most trusted name in news,” CNN is rapidly establishing itself as the least trusted name in news.

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17 responses to “Lies, Damn Lies, and CNN Statistics

  1. I’m not clear on your graphic. Is that the numbers for all of Congress or as the chart implies “a” member of Congress?

    is this another one of those “data swamps”?

  2. They’ve never been known as truthful nothing at any point that I knew of.

  3. CNN – the Clinton News Network. I used to turn to CNN first, but, like the Washington Post, it’s now nothing more than a whore for the Democratic Party. That’s why I get most of my news online. There I can obtain a variety of viewpoints. And I do.

    On the merits, I don’t have trouble with tough background checks and a process where a friend, relative, co-worker can get a short-term restraining order to remove all guns temporarily when there is probative evidence that the owner is a danger to self or others. The process should include a hearing within 72 hours and a 30-day limit on the restriction unless extended by a judge after another hearing. I also think it should be a felony to hire an armed bodyguard.

    But given the nation’s refusal to prosecute those involved in illegal gun sales or add more punishment for anyone using a gun in connection with the commission of a felony, I see much of this new effort as no more than an attempt to scare the hell out of people who think the AR in At-15 stands for assault rifle. Scared people vote. But restricting access to guns for unstable people while respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns needs intelligent, knowledgeable and thoughtful people.

  4. I do not think people need 100-round magazines on any weapon for personal defense. That weapon is designed to kill people just like fully-automatic guns, RPGs, stinger missiles and all manner of military hardware intended to kill as many people as possible.

    There is no way to find out all the folks who should not have these weapons… as long as they are available the wack jobs are going to get them… and they are going to use them – on “soft” targets.. if not the schools.. then other soft targets… That’s the point of these weapons for whackos .. they want to kill the maximum number of people and if one place is “armed” – they’re just going to go to the other places not armed. Are we going to “arm” every single place where people congregate and we end up with everyone with a weapon slung over their shoulder?

    But guys ..go back and read the chart that Jim posted.

    Here’s what Open Secrets has for the NRA:

    ranks 472 of 14,844

    $5,122,000 (2017)
    ranks 82 of 3,452 in 2017

    ranks 14 of 94

    folks like the NRA essentially “launder” their money.

    they got 335K in contributions but they spent almost 7 million dollars.. where did that money come from?

    that’s the name of the game .. get the money in secret and distribute it in secret… but leave a little bit open and exposed so folks will think the actual number is small.

  5. Anybody else remember that NRA big gun Wayne LaPierre started as a legislative aide for Roanoke City delegate Vic Thomas (D)? Yep, right there in the GAB working for one of my favorite legislators of all time. Local Boy Makes Good.

    Jim, watch CNN and you have nobody to blame but yourself for your blood pressure, and the same effect is known to come from Fox News. PBS or the networks are bad enough, but still have some standards. I cannot stomach CNN anymore. Then there is MSNBC, in a class by itself.

    The money doesn’t matter and never has. The political strength of the NRA has always been the members, who do indeed cast their votes on this issue and are very touchy about any regulations (but some do get their support). Nobody in Congress gives a damn about the money but in many districts the NRA membership (and the groups that consider the NRA too squishy) inspire plenty of attention. In some districts the NRA endorsement is a detriment, but in some it remains an asset. I’ve seen stories about companies ending relationships with the NRA, but are the members dropping? No. Perhaps if one of these shootings is ever actually done by an NRA member or somebody with a carry permit…..but nothing comes to mind.

    It is too soon to tell whether this recent PR repackaging of the gun control issue around marching teenagers and school shootings builds a comparable election steamroller on the other side, but perhaps it will.

    Knock on my door loud at 3 am and I’ll let you know if I have weapons. 🙂

  6. I don’t have a problem with handguns nor long guns.. but I do have a problem with RPGs, grenade Launchers, automatic weapons and 100-round magazines.

    The idea that we ought to be able to own any “arms” the military has is where many split. Some folks do indeed believe the word “arms” means any “arms” and that’s where I split.

    The ability of anyone to own a 100-round weapon – I don’t care what you call it… that 100-round weapon – with the ability to easily replace the magazine with another 100 round magazine – means that we will continue to see mass killings… as long as we do believe that any of us should be able to own one. If that’s what we want as a voting electorate – so be it…but at least recognize the truth and you ought not to need CNN or FOX or the NRA or March for our lives to tell you that.

  7. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a good webpage that explains the National Firearms Act of 1934, as amended, and government regulation thereunder.

    The law regulates: (1) a shotgun having a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length; (2) a weapon made from a shotgun if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length; (3) a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length; (4) a weapon made from a rifle if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length; (5) any other weapon, as defined in subsection (e); (6) a machinegun; (7) any silencer (as defined in section 921 of title 18, United States Code); and (8) a destructive device.
    [26 U.S.C. 5845; 27 CFR 479.11]

    Grenade and rocket launcher attachments for use on military type rifles generally do not come within the definition of destructive devices. However, the grenades and rockets used in these devices are generally within the definition.

    May machine guns be transferred from one registered owner to another?
    Yes. If the machine gun was lawfully registered and possessed before May 19, 1986, it may be transferred pursuant to an approved ATF Form 4 (5320.4). [18 U.S.C. 922(o)(2), 26 U.S.C. 5812]

    Lots of interesting information.

    • TMT – the point is that some weapons are capable of killing dozens, hundreds of people and some are not but can be potent defense against bad guys.

      The essential question is not the firearms act or even the Constitution term “arms”. The question is do we want military style weapons that are capable of killing hundreds of people to be sold to anyone who is Constitutionally empowered to buy a handgun ?

      Again – if that’s what the voting electorate – the majority – agree to.. I accept that.. but at this point I’m not sure we actually have a majority in favor of that.

  8. Jim, I don’t really understand your point. Is anything factually amiss in the CNN article? You appear to be criticizing an article that CNN didn’t write (donations at the state level) as opposed to the one they did write (donations to Congressional members). Some of the commenters here use that tactic on you from time to time, you may have noticed.

  9. I guess I’m in Rowinguy1’s camp here. The money available for politics and given to politicians is often obscene, and the cost of getting elected and re-elected without cutting deals with the money-vendors is the root of the evil. But CNN’s take on it is not wrong, but merely myopic — and if their take on the NRA’s giving to Congress is misleading some folks by unwarranted extrapolation or generalization to State races, I’ve seen far worse lately.

    • I always thought journalists were supposed to tell the entire story and not just shill for the groups that match the author’s political beliefs. If the facts are such that the NRA outspends pro-gun control groups in federal elections, but the opposite is true for state and local elections, that is the story. It’s absolutely misleading to focus on just one side of the facts.

      CNN has long since abandoned any pretense to be a news outlet and has become a shill for the Democratic Party. It’s no different than the WaPo editorial board putting pressure on a reporter to stop writing anything negative about then Governor Tim Kaine. If half of America’s journalists did not wake up tomorrow, the quality of news in the U.S. would improve significantly.

      • Thank you for writing for so long and consistently about the appalling decline in main stream journalism, particularly as to the Washington Post, New York Times and now for me the Wall Street Journal. I long ago discerned the trashy and irresponsible reporting that for so long has littered the Washington Post and New Times. But never did I expect abrupt nose dive now on display daily in the Wall Street Journal. The daily bias, the gross misinformation, the constant rumor mongering, the peddling of sensationalism without facts, substance, or relevance to any news of value, the stench of this garbage takes the readers breath away.

        Even more frightening is the gross ignorance and immaturity on display. The writing is vulgar. Its without hint of care or sense of responsibility, much less of wisdom or nuance, or evidence of learning or adult experience. Its a tragedy, one that is spreading into many other places, too.

  10. My bet is that the “CNN lies” idea came straight from FOX news and/or related echo chamber…

    there are a couple of relevant facts here:

    1. – money for pro-guns comes also from the industry.

    2. – the gun-control folks have no such profit motive. it’s purely the issue for them and the money that goes into the system comes out of their own pockets without any expectation of ROI.

    3. – money in politics is not transparent at all. Yes..we know about where the gun control money comes from 0 they have nothing to hide. But the big money for the pro-gun side is not at all transparent. The majority of it is not transparent at all.

  11. My bet is that the “CNN lies” idea came straight from FOX news and/or related echo chamber…

    You lose. The “CNN lies” idea came from the juxtaposition of reading the CNN story and then reading the PBS story — just like I described in the post.

    My bet is that your “rebuttal” (indirect ad hominem attack and all) came straight out of the mainstream media echo chamber.

    Just kidding, I wouldn’t insult you in that manner.

    • But, you have not demonstrated that CNN “lied” at all. The Radio IQ story dealt with an entirely different, albeit related, aspect of the overall issue of political donations. Just as it is apparent to anyone who reads both articles that the “Capitol Hill” referenced in the headline of the CNN piece is Washington, D.C., it is likewise apparent that the “State Races” referenced in the Radio IQ story is limited to Virginia state races and not meant to imply a similar pattern of donations in the 49 other states. I take both stories to be telling the truth.

      • I made it abundantly clear throughout the post that CNN was talking about Congress while PBS was talking about the state of Virginia.

        I’m not suggesting that CNN “lied” overtly but that it framed the money-buys-votes issue entirely in a way that fits its anti-gun narrative — the same narrative we heard from the kids at the “March for Our Lives,” to whom CNN gave wall-to-wall coverage. In other words, CNN lied by omission — just as the purveyors of many statistics lie by omission.

        • Lied about what, Jim? You intimate that because of donation patterns in the last election cycle IN VIRGINIA that gun control groups are favoring gun control candidates in ALL elections at state level. This may be true, but you have not demonstrated it AT ALL.

          Nor have you denied that the NRA overwhelmingly favors one party with donations at the Federal level. Until you come up with some FACTS, you have not advanced your thesis, i.e. that CNN lied “by omission,” one inch.

          Now, when CNN publishes an article that says the NRA dominates election spending in VIRGINIA state elections, you’ll have a point.

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