WASHINGTON -- The National Rifle Association has spent more than $2 million to fund a group that helps elect conservative pro-gun judges and state attorneys general, people likely to rule in court and try cases that will be favorable to the gun lobbying interests.
The group is called the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), and details of the NRA's funding are laid out in a new report issued Thursday by the nonprofit Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank.
The LEAA does not disclose its donors, but CAP researchers analyzed NRA tax returns and public records to determine that the group was founded in 1991 with money from the NRA, and has received a steady stream of payments from the nation's largest gun lobbying group ever since. The report found that the LEAA also has received money from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
LEAA spends that money on judicial elections, paying to run ads and print flyers in support of candidates who share the agenda of its major funders. In 2012, the LEAA spent nearly a half million dollars on one such race in Mississippi, providing about half of Judge Josiah Coleman's total independent spending in his successful run for a seat on the Mississippi State Supreme Court.
But while LEAA is a big-time player in judicial elections, it makes little effort to operate as anything more than an anonymous campaign piggybank. LEAA's website is filled with the same excerpt from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address -- copied and pasted over and over on every page.
The one exception to this is a page outlining its belief that Americans should be free to enjoy "the privacy, dignity and right to self-defense due to all such citizens. We believe that criminals, especially violent ones, deserve to be punished - swiftly and severely!" The LEAA page also says, "we believe in the America of Norman Rockwell."
The group bills itself as "the nation's largest coalition of law enforcement officers, crime victims, and concerned citizens," however, the candidates it supports consistently oppose the stricter gun laws favored by most of the nation's major law enforcement officers' groups.
Ultimately, the report singles out weak campaign finance disclosure rules as the main reason groups like LEAA survive, and even thrive. "Without more effective disclosure rules, elections for judicial and prosecutorial offices can expect more attack ads from anonymous donors intent on shaping our state justice systems," the report concludes.