September 17, 2013; ThinkProgress


It is of late very common for major philanthropic donors to try to influence both other major donors and the general public on political issues, and so this story can be put in the context of a relatively significant mix of billionaire activism. Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad (about whom we wrote earlier this week) is urging that all political donors refuse to give to pols who do not take a stand on gun safety. In a diary entry on the Daily Kos, he writes, “Each time large-scale gun violence strikes our country—at a workplace, a movie theater, a political rally, or most devastating of all, at a school—a public debate about gun laws ensues…Then, Congress promises action. But every time, our elected officials fail to deliver.”

“I urge my fellow voters to withhold donations and deny votes to politicians who refuse to take a stand against gun violence, starting with…three senators…who are planning to run for reelection: Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor.” These Democratic legislators, in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, argued against a bipartisan measure extending background checks to more gun purchases. From the diary:

“As a lifelong Democrat, I don’t take this stand lightly. It wasn’t easy for me to send out letters, as I did this week, to 1,200 California donors who have contributed to Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor in the past, urging them to cease their support. But I’ve also spent more than three decades supporting efforts to stop gun violence. These three Senators have ignored the will of their constituents and failed to help protect children and innocent bystanders from gun violence, departing from the fairly admirable work of their party over the past several decades to promote gun safety.

Forty-five years ago, I voted for Robert F. Kennedy—who spoke out against gun violence—in the California presidential primary just before he was shot and killed. His death came only two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and five years after the shooting death of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. Back then, Congress, led by President Lyndon Johnson, managed to pass a fairly robust law to help stop gun violence by restricting mail orders of guns—though even the famously persuasive Johnson wasn’t able to secure every measure he wanted.

Not long after that, the National Rifle Association managed to convince politicians that it could make or break their election bids. The NRA’s power has only strengthened, despite a decline in gun ownership and despite many gun owners joining the effort to close loopholes and prevent violence.

I wish I could tell you that we can’t wait for the next mass shooting—but we didn’t wait. A shooting occurred just yesterday. Let’s not allow the pattern to play out again. Americans who don’t want to see any more shootings—who don’t believe students should be afraid to go to school—must prove we can be just as powerful as the NRA. Please join me in withholding your support from politicians who claim to want to stop violence but who act otherwise, starting with Senators Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor.”

—Ruth McCambridge