The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: Virginia’s Election Turns Towards Guns

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Now, on to the news.

This week, we had exclusives on two fronts and one of them just heated up. The first front is the NRA. I was the only reporter at the gun group’s 2021 oversight meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina and, so, I was the only one who got a copy of its 2020 financial report. I took a deep dive into its overall cuts to balance the budget and also the cuts it made specifically to its political spending. But, Jake Fogelman took a deep dive into the NRA’s cuts to gun safety training, one of its top priorities, as a member exclusive.

The second is the Virginia governor’s race. We unearthed a 2019 video of Democrat Terry McAuliffe making wild claims about gun shows which he called “the worst thing we have.” He also described how Attorney General Mark Herring (D.), who is now running for re-election, gave him leverage to pass a 2016 deal by canceling gun-carry reciprocity deals despite knowing they posed no real danger to Virginia.

Dominion Energy's political contributions disclosure website
Dominion Energy’s political contributions disclosure website / Screenshot

Virginia Power Company Behind Shadowy Effort to Suppress Gun Voters
By Stephen Gutowski

If you’re a gun owner living in Virginia, it appears your power company does not want you to turn out to vote.

The political action committee for Dominion Energy, one of the largest power providers in the state, is a major funder of a shadowy group buying pro-gun ads against Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. The power company gave $200,000 to the Accountability Virginia PAC, according to disclosures released this month.

Accountability Virginia has been running tens of thousands of dollars worth of attack ads aimed at Youngkin’s gun record. The ads criticize the Republican for not obtaining the endorsements of prominent gun-rights groups, including the NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League. The group has specifically targeted Republican areas of the state.

However, the group only sprung up in July and is run by a liberal consulting group that processes donations through the biggest liberal funding operation in the country. While it attacks Youngkin from the right on guns, it has not done the same to Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe even though he is much further to the left on the issue.

Rather than a straightforward campaign supporting gun rights, the effort appears intended to suppress gun voters and help McAuliffe win the tight race to become governor.

The latest polling shows the race between Youngkin and McAuliffe closer than ever, with one Republican-leaning pollster showing Youngkin up for the first time in the race. If the ads convince some gun owners not to turn out on election day, it could sway the outcome of the close election. That would provide a significant win for Democrats in a bellwether race even as President Joe Biden’s approval rating falters.

The roundabout effort to influence the election by Dominion appears to be the result of McAuliffe disavowing donations from the energy giant. Dominion donated $75,000 directly to McAuliffe’s 2013 campaign and another $50,000 to his inaugural committee. The Democrat swore off the company after that, but it has apparently not sworn off helping him by whatever means necessary.

Neither Dominion Energy nor Accountability Virginia responded to a request for comment. However, Dominion told Axios, who first reported on its donations, it operates transparently.

“Our company’s political donations are disclosed monthly on the company website,” Rayhan Daudani, a Dominion spokesperson, said. “We give in a bipartisan, transparent manner as our voluntary disclosures demonstrate and will continue to do so.”

Election day is November 2nd.

A sign welcoming drivers to Virginia
A sign welcoming drivers to Virginia / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Virginia’s Governor Race Turns Towards Guns as Election Approaches [Member Exlcusive]
By Stephen Gutowski

Virginians will head to the polls in two weeks to vote for a new state government, including the governor.

The impact on gun owners in the state could be significant. Democrats took control of the state government in 2020 and passed a collection of gun laws. They required background checks on private sales and allowed local governments to restrict gun carry in certain places. But, they stopped short of instituting the “assault weapons” ban candidate Terry McAuliffe (D.) and other gun-control activists advocated for.

Democrats will likely make another push if McAuliffe beats Republican Glenn Youngkin, and they hold both chambers of the legislature.

But, up to this point, that hasn’t been a focus of the campaign. McAuliffe has focused chiefly on Youngkin’s coziness with former President Donald Trump and opposition to vaccine mandates. Youngkin has concentrated on school policy and McAuliffe’s insistence that parents should not hold sway over what schools teach.

Even though the 2020 gun bills sparked a state-wide grassroots movement that culminated in one of the largest protests in Richmond’s history, guns have remained in the background… until now.

This week we unearthed a 2019 video of McAuliffe deriding gun shows and talking about how Attorney General Mark Herring (D.) provided him leverage to pass a 2016 gun bill by breaking gun-carry reciprocity agreements despite knowing they weren’t dangerous. After that, we found out who is funding a shadowy liberal-run PAC running pro-gun ads against Youngkin to suppress gun voter turnout. It was Dominion Energy.

Youngkin has tried to tiptoe around the gun issue for most of the campaign. He’s refused to fill out the questionnaires the NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League use to endorse candidates. So, he hasn’t gotten an endorsement.

It appears he believes a strategy of hoping the policy contrast between him and McAuliffe is enough to motivate gun owners while avoiding turning off left-leaning voters in Northern Virginia by being too closely associated with the gun-rights groups. It’s pretty similar to his Trump strategy.

Dominion seems to think that leaves him vulnerable with gun owners. So, it is funding ads to hit him over it.

Interestingly, though, Youngkin’s campaign has been more talkative about the issue recently. They haven’t sought out the gun group’s endorsements, but they have commented on several Reload stories about the issue. They’ve even officially come out in opposition to the “assault weapons” ban that McAuliffe supports.

Perhaps they realize they need to shore up their position to try and motivate gun owners to vote. After all, if they didn’t want anyone to notice where Youngkin stands on guns, they could have simply given no comment instead.

Dominion funding underhanded tactics to depress gun owner turnout while Youngkin tries to boost it with just weeks left until election day shows how close everyone now expects this race to be. McAuliffe has enjoyed only a slight lead to this point, and there are indications the race may be tightening as the end approaches. Every point counts in that case, and how gun owners turnout and vote may well have a significant impact on who wins.

Podcast: A Deep Dive Into the NRA’s 2020 Finances [Member Early Access]
By Stephen Gutowski

On this episode, contributing writer Jake Fogelman and I discuss the financial situation of the country’s largest gun group.

We recently obtained the NRA’s 2020 annual report and compared it to previous ones to get a broad view of what the group’s books look like. Despite years of operating in the red, recent internal turmoil over corruption allegations, and the pandemic, the group is back to running a surplus. A rather large one of about $54 million, in fact.

But that came about as a result of massive spending cuts. As revenues fell by more than $78 million from 2018 to 2020, the NRA cut more than $124 million in spending over that time to keep pace. Political spending took a $50 million hit. Gun safety training was slashed in half.

Then Mike Willever from the Active Self Protection podcast joined me to talk about the most incredible self-defense stories he’s chronicled so far. He also provides insight from his 25-year-long law enforcement career and how those skills translate to the podcasting world. He also talks about the overheated and misleading nature of political and gun news.

You can listen to the show on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here.

You can also watch the video podcast on our YouTube channel.

The NRA guide to the basics of pistol shooting
The NRA guide to the basics of pistol shooting / Stephen Gutowski

NRA Spending on Safety Training Fell 43% in 2020, Hit Multi-Year Low [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogelman

The National Rifle Association’s spending on firearm safety and training, one of its core offerings, has cratered.

The organization’s spending on safety, education, and training dropped from $28.4 million in 2019 to $16.4 million last year, a 43 percent decline, according to the group’s latest consolidated financial statements obtained by The Reload. Last year’s decline is just the latest, and most sizeable, in what’s become a multi-year trend of reduced spending on training programs by the organization.

This precipitous decline in outlays for training and education is a bad sign for a group that touts itself as being “recognized nationally as the gold standard for safe firearm training, developing millions of safe, ethical, responsible shooters and instructors,” and “the premier firearms education organization in the world.” The cuts to core NRA offerings such as training and political spending, in addition to the ongoing turmoil stemming from corruption allegations levied against NRA executives, could make it more difficult for the nation’s leading gun-rights group to recruit and retain members.

The group’s 2020 consolidated financial report explains how its fundraising was impacted by the pandemic.

“As a result of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, NRA has experienced disruptions to daily operations. Economic uncertainties have arisen which are likely to negatively impact revenues. COVID-19 forced cancellation of all competition events, 2020 and 2021 Annual Meetings of members, 2021 [Great American Outdoor Show], and reduction in the number of fundraising banquets held by the Foundation’s Friends of NRA program. Other financial impacts could occur, though such potential impact is unknown at this time.”

The NRA told The Reload its nation-leading training programs were hindered by covid restrictions. But it said they remained active and are poised to increase as restrictions are removed.

“We also held many competitions, sponsored charitable programs, and advanced plans for more firearms training classes as states open up and lift restrictions,” it said.

However, previous years’ consolidated financial reports from the group obtained by The Reload show declines in spending on safety, education, and training every year since at least 2017. In 2018, the group spent $32.7 million on its safety and training programs, down from $42.6 million in 2017. Overall from 2017 to 2020, spending on safety, education, and training per year by the NRA and its affiliates has declined by 62 percent.

Those cuts to spending on safety and training have coincided with a massive rise in administrative legal spending by the NRA. Since 2017, the group’s spending on administrative legal costs per year have increased by 900 percent as of 2020, likely due to the group’s ongoing legal battle against a New York corruption suit that seeks to dissolve the organization.

The cuts also happened dispite the NRA Foundation, which supports the group’s training operations, retaining nearly $120 million in net assets. Though, that number had fallen by about $10 million from 2019.

The group argued it hadn’t “lost a beat.” And it pointed to a number of recent successes in its safety and training operations. It said it added three new programs to its online hunter education program, bringing the total up to 13, and its online Refuse to Be a Victim course has already certified 239 new instructors in 2021. It also said its Hunters for the Hungry program has grown.

“The Hunters for the Hungry program currently has 51 member affiliates,” the group said. “In cooperation with the Hunters’ Leadership Forum, Hunters for the Hungry launched a subsidy program, making $50,000 available to wild game processors. To date, the program has approved 15 subsidy requests, totaling $22,000, that will help process over 90,000 pounds of donated meat to provide meals to over 1 million individuals and their families.”

The NRA also said its safety and training programs are poised to increase in the coming months. Its law enforcement firearm instructor development schools are booked through next year and training materials are up.

“NRA training and material sales remain on a record pace compared to the last year. We also recently relaunched the NRA FIRST Steps Pistol Orientation program with updated branding and refreshed course materials,” the group said. “To meet the needs of our instructors, we also launched the NRA Training Forum – a venue for Instructors, Counselors, and Coaches to freely discuss and share information about firearms training.”

The NRA has historically been prolific in its efforts to create gun safety and training programs. It was originally founded as a marksmanship organization and was an early champion and promoter of shooting sports and hunting among the American populace. In recent years, it’s built out the largest firearm instructor certification and gun training program in the country.

“In civilian training, the NRA continues to be the leader in firearms education,” the group’s website says. “Over 125,000 certified instructors now train about 1,000,000 gun owners a year. Courses are available in basic rifle, pistol, shotgun, muzzleloading firearms, personal protection, even ammunition reloading. Additionally, nearly 7,000 certified coaches are specially trained to work with young competitive shooters.”

The group also famously created a campaign, featuring the mascot Eddie Eagle, to help promote safe practices for parents and young children when they encounter firearms.

“Since the establishment of the lifesaving Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program in 1988, more than 28 million pre-kindergarten to fourth grade children have learned that if they see a firearm in an unsupervised situation, they should ‘STOP. DON’T TOUCH. RUN AWAY. TELL A GROWNUP,’” the group’s website says.

But the group’s investment into its safety and training programs faces an uncertain future. After a failed bankruptcy gambit, the group is likely out of options for avoiding a legal battle with New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.). The lawsuit could result in a significant restructuring of the organization, and possibly even its dissolution. Either way, the group’s rise in legal spending is likely to continue, potentially at the continued expense of its safety and training services.

Stephen Gutowski contributed to this report.

That’s it for now.

I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Stephen Gutowski
The Reload

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