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Politico - Gun Rights Group Flex Muscle

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There's a new generation of gun rights groups causing havoc in Republican offices on Capitol Hill.

They're going after anyone -- even members with pristine ratings from the National Rifle Association -- in a no-holds-barred attempt to make Republicans stop from even thinking about any potential compromises with Democrats on gun control or background check measures.

Several Senate GOP staffers have complained to POLITICO about the National Association for Gun Rights in particular, saying its hardball tactics have made life difficult for their offices with its email and phone campaign.

Along with the Gun Owners of America, the NAGR, its state affiliates and smaller grass-roots groups are using the playbook of the Club for Growth and tea party outlets -- conservative organizations that have forced GOP lawmakers to the right on fiscal issues and punished moderates with primary campaigns.

NAGR is airing attack ads in Virginia against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and GOP Rep. Scott Rigell, accusing them of helping President Barack Obama create a national gun registry.

The group has launched a targeted campaign on social media and email against an array of Republican senators, including Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, saying the lawmakers are working "with the gun grabbers to push gun control through Congress."

And Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey, Republican Senate candidate, has been accused of being a "gun-grabber" by Georgia Gun Owners -- an NAGR state affiliate supporting one of Gingrey's rivals, Rep. Paul Broun.

"The majority of the phone calls we get are constituents confused by what the NAGR is saying and what our record actually is," said one Republican staffer. "We spend an awful lot of time just setting the record straight."

Of the dozen Senate offices POLITICO contacted, several declined to comment and all refused to speak for the record, with several staffers saying they didn't want to give NAGR any credibility.

The NAGR's original group -- the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners -- has been working in primaries on the state level for years. Dudley Brown, the executive director of both groups, began his career as a gun lobbyist in Colorado and has been a thorn in the side of Republicans in the state ever since. The Colorado group lost its tax-exempt status in 2011 after failing to file with the IRS for three years, The Denver Post reported.

Brown says he plans to spend at least $1 million on campaigns in 2013 against anyone who supports new gun laws -- but he'll go especially hard after politicians from strong gun rights states.

As Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brings up a bill to expand background checks, the NAGR and other gun rights groups have been pushing members to encourage their senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to join a filibuster attempt by GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and 10 other Republicans. McConnell's office said on Monday the minority leader also plans to filibuster the legislation should Reid file cloture on a motion to proceed.

Brown's cause is aided in no small part by fundraising solicitations by Rand Paul, whose large base of grass-roots donors has been willing to open its wallets to the NAGR.

According to OpenSecrets, the NAGR has ties to Paul and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), through Michael Rothfeld. Rothfeld serves on the NAGR board of directors and is the president of Saber Communications, a group that worked for both Rand Paul's 2010 Senate campaign and Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. Rothfeld declined to comment.

Brown said he also has a "personal connection" to McConnell through McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, who previously was the political director for Ron Paul's presidential campaign.

"Sen. McConnell as minority leader has a great deal to say, and there's a personal connection there with Jesse Benton, so yeah, we're putting pressure on him," Brown said.

In January, Benton sent a fundraising email out on behalf of McConnell's campaign warning that the "gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out assault on the Second Amendment" and called President Barack Obama's 23 executive orders a "scheme" "to get your guns."

Brown later clarified that Benton has never worked for NAGR, but the two know each other through a "number of sources, including Sen. Paul."

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart wrote in an email that his office "hear[s] from a lot of concerned citizens. The leader does not support the Reid bill." Benton did not respond to a request for comment.

The tactics of the NAGR -- and several of its affiliates -- have infuriated some Republicans, who say the groups are simply lying in order to scare members.

Former Colorado state Sen. Jean White, knows the feeling. She blames her 2012 primary loss on Brown and said the group has been "a nightmare for Republicans and a dream come true for the Democrats."

"He gets involved in primary elections and ultimately we wound up losing majority position in the Legislature because of his antics," White said.

Brown's group believes that background checks for gun ownership are unconstitutional and any politician who expresses an openness to beefing up the current system could face its fury.

That Republicans are worried -- or at the very least annoyed -- is exactly the point, says Brown, who accuses the NRA of "negotiating backroom deals with left-wing Republicans and Democrats for half a loaf of gun control."

Brown, who began his career as a gun lobbyist in Colorado, says contributions to the NAGR have consistently doubled every year and told POLITICO that its 2012 tax filings would show it took in and spent upward of $7 million.

"We're growing as an organization and we're getting big enough where they can't ignore us anymore," Brown said in an interview. "Gun owners want an alternative to the institutional gun lobby. They are tired of hearing the same old BS."

The NRA still has enormous clout on the Hill and many members said they still consider their NRA rating "the gold standard" on their gun rights positions. Brown makes no apologies for his positions or his ad campaign, arguing he is merely "pulling back the curtain on the backroom deals in D.C."

By Kate Nocera

"We think gun owners deserve that honesty," he said.

The NRA declined multiple requests to comment on this story.

Brown's targets say he's simply dishonest.

Rigell, the Virginia congressman who introduced a bipartisan bill to enforce stricter penalties for gun traffickers, said the idea he's helping Obama create a national gun registry is preposterous.

"I outright oppose any initiative that would directly or indirectly result in the creation of a national database of firearms and or firearm owners," Rigell told POLITICO. "Their charge that I am leading this, that I am supporting this, is an egregious lie and completely unfounded."

Former Colorado House member Jim Kerr, who attributes his 2011 state Senate loss to Brown's tactics, said the NAGR leader's increasing influence on national politics should trouble Republicans.

"He has never met a mainstream Republican he did like. He does whatever he can to destroy and disrupt what would normally be considered pretty good candidates," Kerr said.

Kerr said Brown used the voting record of a Colorado Democrat, Andy Kerr, and assigned it to him in mailers in his district. The Democratic Kerr was from a different district, and Jim Kerr's district, safely Republican, ultimately went to NAGR-backed candidate Tim Neville.

"There is no end to dirty tricks with Dudley Brown," Kerr said. "He was using Andy's vote against me, and I got my butt kicked."


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