Dim Journalists Rely Too Heavily on Sunlight Study

Posted on November 16, 2012

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With plenty of legitimate post-election stories needing to be reported, the anti-gun media have instead chosen to highlight a study that misleads readers about the effectiveness of NRA campaign spending.

No one is disputing that the result of the presidential contest was a loss for Second Amendment supporters, but that does not negate the strong message pro-gun voters sent on November 6th.   We maintained pro-gun majorities in both houses of the United States Congress.  We saw the passage of a constitutional amendment in Louisiana which builds a wall of protection around the Second Amendment in that state.  Voters in Idaho, Kentucky, and Nebraska passed significant Right-to-Hunt constitutional amendments.  And voters in nine Illinois counties sent a message to lawmakers in that state with votes in support of the right to carry firearms for self-defense.

And yet, the gloating media has seized on one claim that there was a low "return on investment" for NRA-ILA and NRA Political Victory Fund spending in this election cycle, a conclusion at which you could only arrive if you had negligible integrity and a distinct bias.  It also shows a lack of attention to fact, as the authors of the study, the Sunlight Foundation, falsely claimed that the NRA-PVF financially supported Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Murdock over Joe Donnelly in the general election when a simple check of a variety websites would have shown that we did not.

The study that purportedly demonstrates our low "return on investment" uses a fundamentally flawed process which is based on the percentage of a group's campaign expenditures that were spent on winning candidates, versus those who were defeated.

Even if the Sunlight Foundation had all the facts correct – which it does not – this methodology creates a skewed picture of campaign effectiveness, as we can see with a simple thought experiment.

Consider groups A and B. Group A spends $1 on a long-shot candidate and $99 on an unopposed incumbent.  The Sunlight Foundation study would say group A got a 99 percent "return on investment" even though it probably wasted 100 percent of its money.  Group B spends $1 showing support in a somewhat contested race, but spends $99 on a challenger in a tight election where everyone agrees $99 could help make a difference, though in the end the challenger loses narrowly.  The Sunlight Foundation study would give Group B a 1% "return on investment" even though Group B did the right thing.

In this election cycle, NRA is more like group B, spending money where it counted in amounts that could have made a difference.  We invested heavily in races where there was a distinct choice between a good candidate and a bad one.  Spending our money anywhere else would have been an insult to our members, a poor strategic use of our resources, and would have poorly served the cause of defending the Second Amendment.

We stand by our decision to spend every penny exactly where it was spent, and we applaud every NRA member and gun owner who turned out to the polls on November 6th to support pro-gun candidates and ballot measures.

And, with all the reporting about campaigns and their much vaunted ground games, remember that NRA-ILA hired 25 Campaign Field Representatives who worked in 13 tough battleground states.  Of the 32 races in which our CFRs were engaged, our winning percentage was 75%.

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