The campaign seeking to strengthen background checks for gun sales has already spent $1.5 million this year to try to win support from Maine voters. The group, Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, is expected to meet stiff opposition from gun rights activists before the ballot campaign is over.
The pro-background-check campaign has pulled in close to $3 million after two political action committees merged earlier this year. And more than half of the newly reported $2.1 million in contributions has been spent on significant campaign operations.
Television ad time has been reserved, according to Federal Communications Commission data. In- and out-of-state consultants and field staff have been deployed. Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership has even spent $4,000 on buttons, T-shirts and signs.
It’s a big, early investment for a ballot campaign. And it signals a looming tussle with local gun rights advocates and, likely, the powerful National Rifle Association.
“We also know that, around the country, the gun lobby has been very effective at raising and spending large sums of money to influence public opinion on these types of issues,” says David Farmer, the campaign manager for Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership. “So we take that very seriously.”
Farmer says the group wants to ensure that voters approve a ballot initiative that will require background checks on gun transfers between unlicensed firearm dealers.
David Trahan, director for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, is not shocked by the contributions or the spending.
“I expected from day one that Bloomberg, being a billionaire, was going to spend whatever it took to win the issue,” he says. “So this is no surprise to me. I expect this to be a $6 million-$7 million campaign on that side of the issue.”
Trahan’s referring to noted gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor, and his money, are expected to become an issue in the campaign. So is the NRA, which has spent millions going toe-to-toe with Bloomberg, donating to legislative and congressional candidates and using its vast membership network to influence gun policy in state legislatures.
So far, Bloomberg-affiliated organizations are making the biggest splash in campaign cash. The pro-background-check campaign benefited from a $1.7 million contribution from Everytown for Gun Safety Action, a New York-based nonprofit funded by Bloomberg. According to the Maine finance report, Everytown is also supplying staff for the ballot initiative here.
Other groups are expected to get involved, including Trahan’s SAM. But so far SAM and the NRA have pulled in modest contributions for the opposition effort. The NRA reported just over $30,000 in contributions to the committee that Trahan hopes will lead a coordinated, well-funded effort to defeat the background check initiative.