THE BLOG
05/12/2014 07:43 am ET | Updated Jul 12, 2014

The Real Story Behind Rand Paul's Gun Lobbying Letter

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Last week NRA members, myself included, received a letter from Senator Rand Paul, asking us to donate to The National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), an organization which, according to its website, is the fastest-growing gun rights organization in the United States. Senator Paul's letter, which is the second I have received soliciting funds for the lobbying efforts of the NAGR, led off with a quote from President Obama stating that he would use "whatever power this office holds" to ban guns. The fundraising appeal then goes on to list the usual scare-mongering attacks on Biden, Feinstein and the rest of the liberal, anti-gun crowd.

There's only one little problem. The president never said what Rand Paul claims he said. He didn't even come close. What he said, right after Sandy Hook, was that he would use the powers of his office to "engage my fellow citizens in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this." Now don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to paint Barack Obama as a friend of the gun lobby. He's not. But it seems to me that a United States senator, particularly one who is evidently running to succeed Obama in the White House, needs to be a little more careful with the words he uses.

On the other hand, Rand Paul's fundraising appeal struck me as a bit more strange than just the fact that he misquoted the president because the letter had Paul's return address as being in Virginia, and I thought he was from Kentucky. But it turns out that the letter wasn't sent from Paul at all; it was actually produced by a political PR firm called Saber Communications, whose address is the same town in Virginia which is the headquarters of the NAGR.

So here we have a very interesting three-way connection between a putative presidential candidate, a PR firm that does work for the candidate and a so-called advocacy group that claims to represent the interests of gun owners nationwide. What exactly is this advocacy group known as NAGR? Turns out it was founded in 2001 by a conservative political operative in Colorado named Dudley Brown, who used to claim that he graduated from Colorado State University when, in fact, he never graduated from Colorado State or anywhere else. Brown operated primarily at the state level until he was able to piggy-back onto Glenn Beck, the Tea Party and any other right-wing group to which he could attach his organization's name.

In addition to tirelessly sending out fundraising appeals, the NAGR also has an affiliated PAC which ostensibly lobbies in Washington on issues involving gun rights. In a press release of October, 2013, Brown claimed that his group spent more than $1 million and "led the effort against gun control" on Capitol Hill. But I'm not sure if the money spent by NAGR went into political campaigns, or lobbying efforts, or is being spent primarily on phony and misleading fundraising appeals like the one I recently received. I took a look at NAGR's tax return for 2010, and of the $1.6 million in revenue for that year, direct lobbying was $118,000 but nearly $1 million went for internet marketing and direct mail. And I'll bet that most of that dough was paid to Saber Communications whose owner, Michael Rothfield, sits on the NAGR Board.

The attempt to generate income for a for-profit PR operation by chasing gun owners for donations hasn't escaped the attention of gun folks, many of whom consider NAGR to be nothing more than a fundraising scam. Gun owners tend to be careful with their money, so comments made about NAGR on such gun blogs as AR-15.com, Smith & Wesson Forum and Gun Broker Forum. Com should alert Senator Paul to the fact that a population he considers to be solidly in his corner won't be there much longer if he doesn't polish up his act and stop allowing the NAGR to use his name just to enlarge the revenues of a privately-held PR firm.