FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The National Rifle Association (NRA) finds itself under a public microscope following the NRA Annual Convention in Houston that took place from May 27-29.

The gathering happened approximately 300 miles away from the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, and some are beginning to wonder if the organization wields too much political influence.

Its own website notes that in 1990, the NRA “made a dramatic move to ensure that the financial support for firearms-related activities would be available now and for future generations.” The NRA also identifies itself as “a major political force” and “America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights.”

An investigation into records available on the Federal Election Commission website revealed that all six Arkansan members of the U.S. Congress have accepted donations from the NRA. The FEC report reflected the following totals, all since 2010:

  • Sen. John Boozman – $20,800
  • Sen. Tom Cotton – $12,400
  • Rep. Steve Womack – $12,500
  • Rep. Rick Crawford – $10,000
  • Rep. French Hill – $9,000
  • Rep. Rick Crawford – $10,000

The donations were made for both primary and general elections, with individual donation amounts ranging from $1,000 to $4,950.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence offers some wildly different numbers. Its website notes that Sen. Boozman has accepted $82,352 from the NRA during his political career, while Sen. Cotton has received $1,971,214 through the 2020 election cycle. The Brady Center did not respond to a request to explain its methodology.

KNWA/FOX24 reached out to Dr. Heather Yates, an associate professor of politics and government at the University of Central Arkansas, to explain the disparity between the reported numbers.

The FEC figures don’t suggest that Tom Cotton is underreporting anything in his filings—he’s reporting what he is legally bound to—individual contributions and PAC (political action committee) contributions, which are subjected to contribution limits as prescribed by law. That’s all his campaign is legally required to report to federal regulatory bodies.

There are other ways groups can spend money in politics called ‘independent expenditures.’ These are funds that 501c4 groups and 527 groups will spend independently of a candidate’s campaign (legally they cannot coordinate with a candidate). These funds can be used to help a candidate or to attack an opponent. The messaging of the independent expenditures are out of the reach of a candidate. A candidate may not know how much money was raised and spent to help or attack them.

I think the distinction here is how much money the NRA’s affiliated PAC (called the Political Victory Fund) has contributed directly to Cotton’s campaign (reported to the FEC), contrasted with how much money the NRA has spend independently to boost Cotton’s candidacy.

Dr. Heather Yates, associate professor of political science, University of Central Arkansas

Senator Cotton did not respond to KNWA/FOX24’s request for him to comment on his donations from the NRA.

Following the mass shooting in Uvalde, the NRA released a statement, stating: “Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime. On behalf of our members, we salute the courage of school officials, first responders and others who offered their support and services. Although an investigation is underway and facts are still emerging, we recognize this was the act of a lone, deranged criminal. As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”

Wayne LaPierre has been in charge of the NRA’s operations since 1991 and was recently re-elected by the organization’s board of directors. In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit against the NRA, LaPierre and others, alleging fraud, financial misconduct, and misuse of charitable funds, and calling for the dissolution of the association due to chronic fraudulent management.