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NRA sets its sights on Washington state politics

SEATTLE – When it comes to local politics, the National Rifle Association appears to be keeping a close eye on Washington state.

The prominent gun-rights group contributed more to local candidates in Washington than anywhere else in the country last year: $68,300, according to a report released Friday by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The money went mostly in $900 increments to 45 candidates for the Legislature – 39 Republicans and six Democrats – as well as one unsuccessful state Supreme Court hopeful: Richard Sanders.

The total, combined with $106,175 in donations from the Gun Owners Action League of Washington, represented the most spent by Second Amendment groups here since 2000, according to the report.

No gun-control groups donated to Washington candidates last year, the report added.

The advantage might have paid off: A few months after the election, a proposal to expand background checks for gun sales narrowly died in the state Legislature after a contentious fight, prompting supporters to vow to raise more money and revive the idea as an initiative.

According to the report, the NRA in 2012 spent much more on Washington candidates than on politicians in other states, even big ones such as Texas ($42,250 spent), New York ($18,000) and California ($17,000).

But the report’s authors cautioned that direct contributions to candidates are only one of many ways that organizations such as the NRA seek to influence politics.

“This is only a piece of it,” said Robin Arnold, pointing to independent expenditures and lobbying that last year played a small role in Washington but may have been the center of efforts in other states.

Arnold also noted that the NRA focused on federal candidates last year, including spending $10.4 million against President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Indeed, the $68,300 constitutes a relatively small number among the roughly $31 million spent on state legislative races last year.

Gun-control advocates cited the report as evidence of how Second Amendment groups have dominated the political contribution game here, and how they’re working to do something about it.

“We hope to be a reasonable voice that can counteract the gun lobby, and clearly we have a lot of work to do,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a group funded by Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer that is sponsoring the background-check initiative. “Our intention is to balance the ledger and provide a balanced conversation.”

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