NRA donates $200,000 to Virginia House Republican Leader's PAC
By Keya Vakil
September 5, 2019

The National Rifle Association donated $200,000 to Virginia House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert’s political action committee on Tuesday, the largest single donation the organization has made in Virginia in at least the last 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) has received an A+ career rating from the NRA and has opposed all forms of gun safety legislation, even sponsoring the 2012 bill to repeal Virginia’s “one gun a month” law. He represents a safely conservative district, making it likely that he’ll use the NRA’s money to help Republicans in more competitive districts.

The size of the donation underscores the critical role that the issue of gun violence could play in this November’s elections. 

Virginia Democrats tried to enact numerous gun safety bills during this year’s session of the General Assembly, but Republicans, who hold slim margins in both the House of Delegates and State Senate, blocked them at every turn.

Democrats tried again after a May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach left 12 innocent people dead, with Gov. Ralph Northam calling a special session of the General Assembly to address the state’s gun safety laws.

Democrats hoped to strengthen those laws by passing universal background checks, “red flag” laws, and a ban on assault-style weapons, but once again, Republicans controlled the agenda and adjourned the session after just 90 minutes, without discussing a single piece of legislation. 

In the days following the special session, the Washington Post reported that Virginia’s Republican leaders “spent weeks before the special session in frequent communication with NRA experts,” thus allowing the controversial Fairfax-based gun advocacy group to flex its muscles in the state’s gun debate. 

Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, quickly called out the NRA’s donation to Gilbert as a reward for delaying a vote on gun safety bills.

“Less than two months after blocking any discussion or allowing us to do our work to keep Virginians safe, it is disappointing the Republican leadership now receives this large donation,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “It’s really shocking to see how blatantly the NRA controls the House Republican leadership,” she added.

Jake Rubenstein, the Democratic Party of Virginia’s Communications Director, also accused the NRA of buying Republican loyalty. “Follow the damn money. The NRA is paying Virginia Republicans to block common sense safety measures,” Rubenstein said in a statement

The NRA has also donated $12,000 to the House Republican campaign committee and another $1,500 to House Speaker Kirk Cox’s Colonial Leadership Trust PAC this year, according to VPAP.

While the NRA’s sizable donation is making noise, they are no longer the only players involved in the gun safety debate in Virginia. 

Following news of the NRA’s donation, Filler-Corn announced she would match their donation by giving $200,000 from her Energized for Change PAC to the House Democratic Caucus. 

Del. Chris Hurst (D-Blacksburg), who lost his girlfriend Allison Parker to gun violence, praised Filler-Corn’s donation, saying her investment will “help our delegates and candidates talk to voters about the most pressing issues facing our Commonwealth.”

Hurst also emphasized that the NRA’s donation signaled that Republican leadership was scared. “They know Democrats are in their strongest position in a generation to take the majority in the legislature,” Hurst said.

Filler-Corn isn’t the only one ramping up spending to combat the NRA. The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a group working to end gun violence, has also promised to spend a total of $2.5 million in the state to help Democrats win control of the General Assembly and pass gun safety laws. 

Whether the big spending pays off for the NRA or for Everytown remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the scourge of mass shootings, including the recent ones in Virginia Beach, Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, have elevated the issue of gun violence ahead of this year’s elections, and control of Virginia’s legislature could well hinge on the issue of guns and how voters feel about them.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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