North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory got his facts wrong when he criticized a gay rights group that is lobbying to repeal a controversial bill he signed to limit transgender bathroom use.
McCrory claimed the Human Rights Campaign is “more powerful than the NRA,” accusing the group of raising millions of dollars without disclosing its donors because of the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. That decision allowed groups to form super PACs to raise unlimited amounts of money to fund TV ads and make other independent expenditures to influence federal campaigns.
But those super PACs must disclose their donors, contrary to McCrory’s claim. And the Human Rights Campaign’s super PAC spent in total just about $181,000 combined in the 2012 and 2014 campaigns, and $33,467 so far in the 2016 cycle.
If measured by outside spending on independent expenditures or electioneering communications in federal campaigns — such as TV ads — the NRA is far more powerful than the Human Rights Campaign. The NRA and its affiliates had $28.2 million in outside spending during the 2014 election cycle, and another $19.8 million in the 2012 cycle. That dwarfs the $78,693 in outside spending from HRC and its affiliates in the 2014 cycle and $91,149 in the 2012 cycle.
Much of that spending by the NRA and HRC was made by their nonprofit affiliates, which are registered with the IRS and do not have to disclose their donors. Those nonprofits were not affected by the Citizens United ruling.
As for other ways of influencing elections and public policy, the Human Rights Campaign spent slightly more on political contributions in 2012 and 2014 than the NRA, but the gun rights group spends magnitudes more on federal lobbying.
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 17, McCrory blamed the Human Rights Campaign for “putting on a lot of pressure, instead of having a good dialogue.”
“I’ve met with transgender people in the past, and I’ve met with them since, and have had very positive conversations,” McCrory said. “Now the conversation with a very powerful group called the Human Relations, uh, Human Rights Council, my gosh, they’re more powerful than the NRA, and they have millions of dollars, which makes me want to overturn United, ’cause I don’t know who their donors are either.”
The Human Rights Campaign, the national advocacy group on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, has been extremely active in North Carolina opposing a state bill signed by McCrory that prevents transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. HRC has enlisted the support of 160 businesses on a petition calling for repeal of the law, and the group has praised and encouraged a growing list of entertainers, like Bruce Springsteen, who have canceled concerts or other events in protest over the law.
But more powerful than the National Rifle Association? We allow that it’s somewhat subjective to judge the relative power of various advocacy groups, but since McCrory framed his comments in the context of the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which loosened restrictions on individual, corporate and union spending in federal elections, we thought it made sense to compare the federal spending of each group.
And by that measure, McCrory’s claim is way off base.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA’s $28.2 million in outside spending during the 2014 election cycle ranked it 10th out of 186 organizations that made independent expenditures or electioneering communications in the 2014 cycle. The NRA and its affiliated political organizations spent a lot of that money trying to defeat Democratic candidates when the Senate control was up for grabs.
By contrast, the $78,693 in combined outside spending by HRC and its affiliates in the 2014 cycle ranked it 98th.
The NRA also spends significantly more on lobbying than HRC. The NRA spent $3.4 million on federal lobbying in 2014, $3.4 million in 2013, $3 million in 2012 and $2.9 million in 2011. That’s more than double the amount spent by HRC on lobbying: $1.2 million in 2014, $1.6 million in 2013, $1.4 million in 2012 and $1.6 million in 2011.
Contributions from employees and political action committees of the two groups were similar. Contributions from HRC to politicians and political groups came to roughly $1.2 million each in the 2014 and 2012 election cycles. Contributions from the NRA were $1.2 million in the 2012 cycle, and $984,152 in the 2014 cycle.
A look at the groups’ IRS Form 990s also shows the two groups are in different stratospheres with regard to annual revenues.
Human Rights Inc. showed total revenues of $38.5 million in 2014, and $36.5 million in 2013. Its foundation had total revenues of $13.8 million in 2014 and $13 million in 2013. Compare that with the National Rifle Association of America, which had total revenues of $348 million in 2013, while the NRA Foundation had revenues of $41.3 million in 2013. Most of the money raised by the NRA funds things like member newsletters, sporting events and gun safety education and training programs, in addition to its political activities.
But as we said, McCrory mentioned the comparison in the context of Citizens United. Human Rights Campaign Inc. is registered under the IRS code as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. As such, it is not required to disclose its donors, and does not do so to the FEC (though it does voluntarily list donors, but not amounts, in its quarterly magazine, Equality.) It is allowed to engage in some political activity, so long as that is not its primary activity. Its sister organization, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, is a 501(c)(3), a designation that allows donations to be tax-deductible but has restrictions on political activity.
HRC has several PACs, and the Center for Responsive Politics breaks out contributions those PACs made by source of funds and political party to which they donated. However, only one of the PACs affiliated with the Human Rights Campaign was affected by Citizens United, the Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes. That super PAC so far has spent very little on independent expenditures in 2016. In fact, the group has raised about $235,000 in the 2016 cycle and spent $33,467 on independent expenditures, as of March 31. In its statement of organization in 2011, Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes notes that it “intends to make independent expenditures, and consistent with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision in SpeechNow v. FEC … it therefore intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts.” That is an appeals court ruling that applied the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. Like all super PACs, Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes is required to disclose its donors.
The NRA doesn’t have a super PAC, but it used its 501(c)(4), which also doesn’t have to disclose its donors, to make $11.5 million in independent expenditures in the 2014 cycle. Its PAC, which does disclose donors, made another $14.3 million in independent expenditures in 2014. The HRC mostly uses its regular PAC ($48,377 in independent expenditures in the 2014 cycle), which does have to disclose its donors.
So where does the NRA get its money? A CNN Money analysis found that “some political funding comes from big corporations, many within the gun industry, which donate millions to the NRA. But companies are barred from donating to the NRA’s political action committee, which the agency uses to fill campaign coffers, run ads and send out mailers for and against candidates.” A Huffington Post report lists some of the largest corporate donors with ties to the gun industry.
But the National Rifle Association of America Political Victory Fund is driven by thousands of individual donors — who contributed $22 million in 2014 — about 93 percent of whom gave less than $200.
We reached out to McCrory’s office for clarification but did not receive a response.
We also reached out to Human Rights Campaign, and spokesman Brandon Lorenz cautioned via email that dollars alone are not the only or best means to measure the impact of an organization.
“We draw strength from our millions of members and supporters who vote, advocate and speak out for equality in their communities across the nation,” Lorenz stated. “We draw our strength from vocal and visible allies in entertainment, in sports, and in the business community — like the more than 160 executives who have spoken out publicly against Governor McCrory’s HB2 law. And we draw strength from the growing bipartisan political support for LGBT equality, both in Congress and among the fair-minded majority of Americans, that we have worked for decades to cultivate.”
Again, we are not going to wade into a subjective debate about the relative influence of the Human Rights Campaign versus the NRA. But McCrory himself mentioned money to back up his claim that the HRC is “more powerful than the NRA.” And by that measure, he’s wrong.