The Role of Single Issue PACs
An editorial response by multiple contributors
On July 11, 2010, Buckeye Firearms Association, a single issue Ohio political action committee (PAC), endorsed the reelection of incumbent Democrat Governor Ted Strickland over Republican challenger John Kasich.
To "insiders," this endorsement decision was expected. However, we realize that not all of our readers are "insiders" and do not necessarily follow politics closely. For them, a decision from a gun group that was not "GOP=Endorsement" might cause some initial contrarian reactions.
As such, we felt it might be helpful to respond to some of the generic concerns that have been expressed to us.
Pro Second Amendment Groups are not branch offices of the GOP
One conservative blogger summed up this sentiment nicely with the title of the post he used to scathe gun group endorsements of Strickland – "Gun groups have become less reliable." Inherent in the title of this post is the premise that pro-gun groups are supposed to automatically endorse GOP candidates over all others, regardless of the candidates' record on our single issue. Other comments were along the lines of "Strickland will just support Democrats on everything else."
Single issue PACs are non-partisan. While our single issue interest in supporting firearm rights might quite often closely align with a particular movement or party, that does not mean that the single issue PAC moves in lock step with the other movement or party. A large part of the noise being generated is along the lines of "How dare you not support the GOP candidate?"
We regret that bloggers and elected officials ever considered BFA's support as automatic or taken for granted simply because someone is a member of one party over another. We are not the SEIU, the UAW, Teamsters, etc. and we engage in this pesky exercise called independent thought prior to announcing our decisions. Perhaps now that the misconception has been cleared up, candidates and elected officials will realize that they are judged on their actions in support of or opposition to our single issue and act accordingly.
On a final note, in talking to numerous GOP officeholders since our announcement, and hearing from them over the past few months (going back through early spring, GOP operatives made repeated, intense efforts to avert the endorsement of Strickland by pro-gun groups), we have noticed a consistent source of anger. The GOP operatives are angry that they have to waste their time and resources to blunt the impact of our endorsement of Kasich's opponent has on what should be a core, no-brainer issue for any Republican. The anger distills down to: "How could the top of our ticket have strayed so far on this core conservative issue? Now we are forced to focus on THIS rather than some other talking point we'd prefer to concentrate on, such as the economy."
Single issue groups need to stay single issue to preserve their effectiveness
While we do not wish to be immodest, Ohio's firearm laws have advanced tremendously in the past six years. A large part of that success is that the pro-gun groups maintain a laser-like focus on the core issue. When we talk to elected representatives, the media or the general public, the fact that we are the PAC equivalent of Switzerland on everything but the core gun rights issue is a tremendous asset. A wavering politician knows that if they support us, we will support them despite whatever party affiliation might appear next to their name. There will be no abandonment or partisan throat-cutting over something unrelated to our issue.
This remains true despite the fact that many of the "actors" within Buckeye Firearms Association are in fact elected GOP officeholders. The reason we have been able to obtain vote totals on pro-gun bills of 100% several times, 75%+ several times etc. is that the "partisan hat" is taken off when it comes to the work on pro-gun measures. This is also the reason our endorsement decisions have become a factor in so many races.
There is tremendous upside to voting with us with little to no corresponding downside to voting with us. The anti-gun activists cannot claim this – there is no candidate winning elections because they are anti-gun, yet there are plenty facing vibrant challenge and defeat because they are anti-gun. Politicians are cost/benefit creatures. If they can analyze a vote in terms of "If I vote for this, there is demonstrated benefit, loyalty and support, versus if I vote against this I gain nothing but opposition and heartache" then we think you can see where their decision will trend.
As a result, whether Democrat, Republican or third party, the candidate/office holder knows there is nothing but risk in voting against us and nothing but gain in voting with us.
It is up to the voter, not BFA, to determine what mix of ancillary issues are important
Many of the concerns expressed, and much of the pressure in the early spring leading up to the endorsement, centered around observations such as "with the economy (taxes/union contracts/gambling...insert your own ancillary issue) as bad as it is, no one can afford to own guns so the economy should play a role in your gun group decision." That might or might not be true, but it is an analysis BFA does not need to engage in.
We will grade the candidates on the core issue, and the core issue only. We will not mix in ancillary issues and try to come up with a hybrid rating. That is not fair to our supporters nor to our elected officials. Once started down that road, it will be impossible to decipher what part of a candidate's grade is based upon their proven support on gun issues versus, for example, supporting video slots at the racetrack.
If a voter is someone who believes that firearm rights are interrelated with the economy, then this voter can take our information and grades on Governor Strickland and challenger John Kasich as based entirely upon the core gun issue and the core issue only. This voter may then turn to another resource, such as Club for Growth or Chamber of Commerce, take that group's information on those core economic issues, and apply a personal formula to reach their own decision. All this may be accomplished without the voter worrying whether BFA nudged someone's gun grade because they voted for slots at the racetrack and worrying whether the Club for Growth hit someone's tax scores over voting for or against an assault weapon ban.
We don't hold people's friends against them
This argument is best summed up by a telephone call we had with a GOP State Central Committee member:
GOP Central Committee member: "How can BFA support Strickland? The guy supports Obama, who wants to ban all guns! You're supporting the enemy of guns!"
BFA: "So we should pull support from an A+ rated candidate because he supports another candidate who is anti-gun? OK, after we do that, should we then move to pull support from all the GOP State Central Committee members who just voted to endorse Mike DeWine and Paul Pfeifer?"
GOP Central Committee member: "[silence]......[chuckling]"
There is no politician, anywhere, who would be immune from the swinging axe if this was a standard, and our volunteer endorsement committee frankly does not have the time or resources to cull over 400 surveys AND then check to see if those same people ever supported or donated to an anti-gun candidate. Besides, it still wouldn't change the steadfast support a candidate has given us over the years - only a vote against us will do that.
The Lieutenant Governor Candidate
A final area of pressure has centered on considering the Lieutenant Governor candidate, in an attempt to bolster Kasich's weaknesses with Taylor's strengths while simultaneously attacking Strickland's strengths with McGee Brown's weaknesses. This might be a point open for discussion in the future, particularly if Ohio moves to a model where the Lieutenant Governor is voted for separately, or in a case where the Lieutenant Governor is somehow going to be ceded authority or policy control.
In the meantime, we endorse the person being vested with the authority to act (i.e the candidate for Governor). In this race, should something tragic happen to Governor Strickland and either Lee Fisher or Yvette McGee Brown ascend, we are comfortable that, at worst, there will a cessation in the continuing improvement of Ohio's gun laws. There will not, however, be any new gun control. This is compared to the other scenario, where a squishy Governor might find us wishing something tragic would happen so the Lieutenant Governor, who is stronger on our issue, would be in office and not obstructing/watering down our bills.
The reason we are comfortable with this approach is that since Day One we have graded candidates on our single issue, and our single issue only, without regard to party affiliation. Thus, we know where we stand with our elected legislators. Should something happen to Strickland, for example, and McGee Brown attempts to "go Chicago" on us, we know we have 75% of both legislative chambers with demonstrated support of gun rights to protect us. Not only should any new gun control be easily killed, but we have a fair shot at passing legislation over vetoes.
The advantage of our system is that if a strong chief executive does start to push gun control (i.e. Clinton and an assault weapons ban) we know where our candidates stand, we know which ones have a record of bucking their own party to stay true to gun rights (for example, Strickland) and which ones have a record of bucking their own party to vote against gun rights (for example, Kasich).
We would be even more secure in this knowledge had the Ohio Senate acted quicker on SB239 and SB247, as then every sitting Democrat in the House would have two more recorded votes on gun bills prior to the November election. Alas, that did not happen.
It is encouraging that so many of our readers are thinking politically and taking the time to express their concerns with us. Such constituent contact with legislators is a large part of convincing them to listen to, and then vote with us. We are also thrilled that so many gun owners are engaged in the political process. We hope that energy will translate into volunteering for several of our endorsed candidates' campaigns.
It does not matter if you are a Republican upset at our endorsement of Governor Strickland, or a Democrat upset with our endorsement of Rob Portman - either way you should be upset with your candidate for not having a better record on guns. Make your displeasure known to them. We endorsed the best candidates on our one issue. When enough people feel strongly enough that they refuse to support such flawed candidates, then we will see both parties doing a better job on our issue. There is sufficient evidence that we made great strides in recent years thanks to people weighing Second Amendment issues heavily in their voting decision.
Buckeye Firearms Association puts great effort into our endorsements. We have an excellent track record with our endorsements. We are confident that our endorsed candidates, no matter what party they belong to, are the ones who have dutifully earned your support. It's up to you to decide if firearm rights are important enough to you to support the candidate that will protect and advance them for you.