The old idea, “If you want to understand what’s really going on, follow the money,” certainly holds true when it comes to gun-control groups. The NRA gets its funding from millions of members and supporters who cherish American freedom. In contrast, as you’ll see here, the vast majority of money fueling gun-control groups comes from a few mega-wealthy individuals who live very protected lives, but don’t think you should have the same security as they do.
Searching publicly available records, we were able to get a good idea of how the gun-control groups are financed. This involved doing forensic accounting work on the three biggest gun-control groups’ political-action committees (PACS): the Michael Bloomberg-funded group Everytown for Gun Safety, the Giffords PAC and the Brady PAC.
Everytown for Gun Safety
The Everytown PAC is the brainchild of one man, Michael Bloomberg. When he was the mayor of New York City, Bloomberg originally founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This name was basically scrapped after a lot of mayors turned on the group for simply promoting an anti-gun agenda, and it morphed into Everytown for Gun Safety. Bloomberg’s gun-control ambitions have spawned other groups, but right now the central one is Everytown. It’s an anti-Second Amendment group that creatively tries every tactic it can dream up to diminish our right to keep and bear arms at the local, state and federal levels. The Everytown PAC, organized as a pair of Delaware-chartered corporations with operating offices in New York, is part of this anti-gun machine.
Bloomberg sought the nomination of the Democrat Party for the presidency in 2020, no doubt partly to achieve his goal of diminishing or abolishing the Second Amendment. Despite an almost unlimited budget—Bloomberg’s campaign spent about a billion dollars—his campaign failed miserably. Bloomberg, along with some other prominently wealthy candidates, found out that money won’t necessarily buy popularity for him or his ideas. That failure, however, hasn’t stopped him from continuing to try buy influence via Everytown, which continues to be a well-funded organization.
The Everytown For Gun Safety Action Fund Inc. PAC, or “Everytown PAC” (FEC ID C00640086), is the political-contribution arm of the organization. As of June 30, 2020, the Everytown PAC reported taking in a tiny $26,600 and spending $174,000, with $165,500 of that in contributions to political candidates. The website OpenSecrets.org reported only nine individual contributions greater than $200 in the 2019-2020 cycle. The two largest individual contributors were Kevin Rowe of Santa Fe, N.M., with the firm K Rowe Investments LLC, making a total contribution of $7,333, and one by Kathleen McGrath of Encino, Calif., who is with the entertainment production company Bad Robot, for $5,000.
But that is not the interesting thing about the Everytown PAC. What’s fascinating is the role it plays in moving large sums around for Bloomberg. During the last 12 months, as this was being written, there have been a lot of money transfers between the Everytown For Gun Safety Action Fund Inc.’s sister PAC, the Everytown For Gun Safety Victory Fund (Everytown Victory Fund) and Mike Bloomberg 2020—his presidential campaign fund. The deck-chair shuffling looks to be about $15 million sent from the Action PAC to the Victory Fund—these were booked as contributions starting in 2019. This coincided with $4.4 million going back from the Victory Fund to the Action PAC in the form of a vendor payment. Somewhere in there, the Action PAC also sent $3.2 million to the Bloomberg presidential campaign. As much as it forensically intrigues me, exactly what income statement, balance sheet, tax management, management controls or FEC reporting purposes this served, I am not certain. But what is clear is that these internal transactions were the largest movements of money within the amalgam of Bloomberg’s political money piles. And this is the smaller of the pair of Everytown’s funds.
The much larger Everytown For Gun Safety Victory Fund (Everytown Victory Fund) (FEC ID C0068865) is the attack-dog component of the Everytown organization. It is the one that does all the negative advertising seeking to undermine the Second Amendment. It is a full-fledged PAC that does not contribute to any campaigns, but still takes in very big donations.
In addition to Bloomberg’s personal largess, OpenSecrets.org reports that the Victory Fund had 857 large donors, as this was being written, in the 2019-2020 cycle. The most-substantial donor was Steve Ballmer from Bellevue, Wash., of the Ballmer Group, better known as the former CEO of Microsoft and the owner of the L.A. Clippers basketball team. He donated $7 million in April 2020. The third-largest donor to the Everytown Victory Fund in this cycle was Cynthia Simon Skjodt, who donated $750,000. All of the other contributions were smaller.
This means three people—Bloomberg, Ballmer and Skjodt—accounted for almost $23 million of the $24.6 million the Victory Fund reported taking in for 2019-2020.
They have around $19 million available in the Victory Fund to engage in independent-expenditure PAC activity. That is code for “election influencing.” As of June 30, 2020, the Everytown Victory Fund reported having spent $200,000 on independent expenditures, all of it in negative ads against Republican candidates.
In terms of specific expenses by the Everytown Victory Fund, they are not quite pedestrian. The unclassifiable data and technology line items far exceed every other expense item on the books. Then again, if one’s goal is to manufacture an echo-chamber narrative designed to use the mainstream media and social media to push your agenda for the 2020 election, maybe that is how much it costs.
Unfortunately, these political arms of Everytown are not charities and therefore cannot be examined or rated by Charity Navigator or similar organziations. However, it is notable that the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, which is a 501(c)(3) organization, gets only one star from Charity Navigator in the Accountability & Transparency category.
Taking a step back from Bloomberg’s machine, I cannot help but think that all this infrastructure was meant for far more than a single-issue campaign like gun control. This is a machine on the scale of winning a presidency—something that slipped through Michael Bloomberg’s fingers, but which he’s still trying to win in other ways.
The Giffords PAC (FEC ID C00540443), headquartered in Washington, D.C., is an entirely different political machine. It, too, is not a charity and thus cannot be rated by Charity Navigator or similar organizations. However, other sources show that as of June 30, 2020, Giffords had taken in $8 million in receipts and spent $6 million, with around $2.8 million in reserve.
Two things immediately stand out about this PAC. First is how narrowly and sparingly it spends its money. As this was being written, it had made a mere $198,000 in campaign contributions and spent $1.4 million of its independent-expenditure PAC money against one campaign: Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) who, at press time, was in a tight race with Democrat John Hickenlooper, a man who wants to deeply restrict our Second Amendment rights. This is considered to be a key race for control of the U.S. Senate.
The other thing about the Giffords PAC is the nature of its expenses. They are, compared to the frugality of Everytown, astronomical. The administrative, fundraising, media, salary and miscellaneous expenses of this group take up the largest use of its donations.
Examination of the lists of the donor base of the Giffords PAC reveals that it had, as this was being written, 3,473 contributors who gave $200 or more. Only three people had donated more than $10,000 to the Giffords PAC in the 2019-2020 cycle. It’s unclear whether these people donated believing in the gun-control cause of Giffords or if they are aware that around 80 cents on the dollar they donate is either going into operating expenses or to the Washington, D.C., political machine.
Exactly what kind of expenses? Let’s start with the action spending end first. The disclosure data published on OpenSecrets.org indicates that by midyear, Giffords had made around $252,500 in campaign contributions and spent a meager $3,900 on campaign-related expenses. On the internal expense side, the PAC had racked up a $198,300 bill for strategy and research, $1.3 million in media buys, $1.2 million for staff salaries, $579,300 in administrative costs, $2 million on fundraising and $639,800 in unclassifiable costs. The list of “vendors” reads like a list of the left’s most-powerful operatives.
Somewhere in all of it, Giffords PAC claims these expenditures amount to an independent spending of around $1.4 million aimed at defeating Sen. Gardner. The point to note here is this is more about flipping the U.S. Senate than it is about the PAC’s stated effort to promote gun-control.
Finally, the Brady PAC (FEC ID C00674093) is a gun-control organization most NRA members will recognize. One of the oldest anti-gun lobby groups, the Brady Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence, appeared on the scene in the 1970s. It was originally named the National Council to Control Handguns, then Gun Control Inc., and, for now, it goes by Brady.
It is a poor PAC compared to the first two described in this article. As of June 30, 2020, the Brady PAC had taken in $2,463,048 in donations and spent $2,372,045 in expenses. They had just over $100,000 in reserves. Fifty percent of the Brady PAC’s receipts, around $1.1 million, have gone into political campaign contributions. Expenses are about what you would expect, with salaries accounting for about 10%, and most of the rest going to the outsized media budget for web ads that seems to be the money pit of lobbying these days.
A look at the donor base of the Brady PAC shows what looks to be a loyal cadre of contributors. Contributions by the 840 people who gave $200 or more listed by OpenSecrets.org show recurring donations by the same small group of people on an ongoing basis. They are literally the pulse of this PAC.
What This All Means
Looking at these three anti-gun organizations and the nuances of their finances, we see that Brady is the ode to the past. They lobby for gun-control legislation and pay lawyers to go to the courts to take our freedom away. Giffords is an expression of establishment politics. It exploits wedge issues for fundraising purposes. Its main purpose is to feed the establishment. Everytown’s financial structure, meanwhile, is highly concentrated. When you follow the money, it leads to an elitist movement that seeks to impose its will upon ordinary people. To Bloomberg, America’s 100-million-plus gun owners are an archetype of the kind of rugged individualism that cannot be allowed to exist in an elite nanny-state world.
They spend money, a lot of money—Bloomberg is spending at least $60 million in this election cycle—to convince people that their freedom is a problem they need to give up.
Dennis Santiago is a global risk and financial analyst with 40 years of national policy experience.