Sen. Joni Ernst pushes the NRA's agenda — but she insists that this has nothing to do with the millions the gun extremist group spends on her behalf.
The NRA has spent millions to elect Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), and she has backed their agenda while serving in the Senate. But now she is insisting that the vast sums of money spent in her favor do nothing to influence her extremist positions on guns.
At a recent town hall, an audience member confronted Ernst over her co-sponsorship of the STOP School Violence Act — which purports to address school safety, but completely ignores the problem of guns in schools.
This omission is especially glaring that the bill, which has passed the House but not the Senate, was proposed after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida.
In a video posted by March For Our Lives Iowa, a young man is seen asking Ernst if her choice to back such a weak bill had any connection to the $6 million in support she and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have received from the NRA.
"We don't receive dollars from the NRA," Ernst replied, disingenuously. "That would be illegal, and I'd be driving a nicer car."
If the NRA has never written a check to her campaign directly, then Ernst is technically telling the truth.
But Ernst has benefited from more than $3.1 million of NRA spending over her career, as the New York Times has documented. Rubio has received $3.3 million, which means the questioner was right to say that the two together have received $6 million.
Senator Joni Ernst when asked if NRA money is affecting her gun violence prevention legislation:
"They do not give us money. That would be illegal and I'd be driving a nicer car." pic.twitter.com/OduXnoWl9i
— March For Our Lives Iowa (@IowaMFOL) August 9, 2018
Some or all of that $6 million may have been spent on independent ads the NRA ran to support Ernst's and Rubio's campaigns, rather than on direct contributions — but the candidates still benefited from that spending.
Ernst has tried to distract from the NRA's power over her vote before, dismissing the NRA's lavish spending on her behalf as coming from "outside organizations" who "will run advertisements without the consent of candidates."
But the NRA isn't spending money on Ernst just for the heck of it.
Last year, Ernst voted to stop a new rule that would have prevented severely mentally ill people from getting guns.
After the Parkland shooting, Ernst was front and center parroting the NRA party line that the key to preventing future massacres was addressing the "root cause" of mental health, not to sensibly regulate the guns that are repeatedly used to slaughter innocents across the nation.
Clearly, the NRA got what it paid for.
Ernst is in the top 10 list of senators who have benefitted from the most NRA money over their careers. She joins figures like Sen. Rubio, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) to form the NRA's amen chorus in the Senate.
These Republicans continually block gun reform measures, even those that have widespread public support. And in election years, the NRA goes all out to help its loyal lawmakers keep their seats in Congress.
When she first ran for her Senate seat, the NRA demanded that supporters "Vote Joni Ernst" and highlighted the "A" rating she received from the group.
The NRA ran ads falsely claiming her opponent wanted to "take away your gun rights" and proclaimed, "Ernst is a solidly pro-gun candidate."
The NRA has been on the losing end of public opinion lately, both thanks to its callous indifference to gun violence victims, and to its potential involvement with shady Russian money.
Ernst may be trying to distance herself from all of that. But her record and rhetoric show that she moves in lockstep with the NRA, and will continue to do so.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.