GOP senators opposing Biden's ATF pick took tens of thousands of dollars from gun lobby


Eleven Republican senators are promoting a disinformation campaign against David Chipman in order to hurt his prospects.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who oppose President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives took tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from two gun lobby groups that are leading the effort to sink the nomination, according to an analysis of campaign finance data. 

David Chipman, a former agent with the ATF and senior policy advisor with the gun control nonprofit Giffords, was nominated by Biden in April to lead the embroiled agency, which hasn't had a permanent director since March 2015, more than six years ago. But Chipman's nomination immediately courted controversy from opponents of gun control legislation, who are attacking his work as an adviser for Giffords, which advocates for stricter gun laws. 

During Chipman's confirmation hearing in June, he faced a cacophony of criticism from the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, who targeted his advocacy work and scrutinized his past statements on gun ownership, including a previous interview where he jokingly compared people buying guns during the pandemic to "zombie apocalypse" preppers. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said during the hearing that appointing Chipman to lead the ATF would be "like putting a tobacco executive in charge of Health and Human Services or 'antifa' in charge of the Portland Police Department."

Since then, the gun lobby has spearheaded a massive campaign to try and sink Chipman's confirmation. 

According to reporting from USA Today and the Trace, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm industry trade group, spent money on ads against Chipman in both West Virginia and Maine, in an attempt to sway those states' senators — Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Angus King (I-ME) — to vote against his confirmation. 

Since Chipman's nomination, conservative media outlets like Fox News, Breitbart, and the gun rights website the Reload have run unsubstantiated stories based on reports from a group of anonymous former ATF agents alleging he made racist comments while working at the agency, as well as unproven claims that he was once used by the Chinese government to cover up a mass stabbing incident in China. 

Those allegations have been used in attack ads produced by the gun lobby in an attempt to sink his confirmation.

The allegations have also been repeatedly brought up by the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who are trying to thwart Chipman's confirmation. 

On July 29, the 11 Republicans on the committee sent a letter to committee chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) asking for another hearing specifically to address the allegations.

 "It's critical that we call him in for a public hearing to address these allegations before any move is made to advance his failed nomination to the Floor," the senators wrote. 

Durbin responded on Aug. 2, writing that "the Committee will not hold a second hearing on Mr. Chipman's nomination based on baseless allegations by anonymous sources published in venues with an obvious agenda." But the Republican senators doubled down, claiming on Aug. 4 that a second hearing was necessary to "help us uncover the documents the Justice Department presumably has ... that could clear up this controversy." 

All 11 senators pushing for a second hearing based on the allegations — which have been promoted by the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and the Second Amendment Foundation — have received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions by two of those groups in their last few reelection campaigns. 

According to campaign finance data, Grassley, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX.), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) received more than $130,000 from the NRA since 2016, and $48,000 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation

The American Independent Foundation reached out for comment to all 11 senators to see if their relationship with the gun lobby groups impacted their position on Chipman's nomination at all. 

A spokesperson from Cruz's office said in a statement that the senator "has a long history of fighting to preserve and protect our United States Constitution, including the Second Amendment." 

"He has argued in support of the Second Amendment well before he became a United States senator," they continued. "Sen. Cruz has long said that the incredible part of supporters of the Second Amendment is they are not just one or two organizations but millions of Americans standing for freedom beyond just an organization. David Chipman is a partisan, anti-gun zealot who has a disdain for gun owners and should not run the ATF."

A spokesperson for Sasse's office said, "This isn't rocket science: Nebraska gun owners oppose Chipman and so does Ben."

And a spokesperson for Grassley's office said in a statement that "campaign contributions do not impact Senator Grassley's decisions on any issue," adding that his "opposition to the Chipman nomination is based on the persistent concerns raised by Iowans and others about this nominee's widely-recognized hostility to the constitutional protections enshrined in the Second Amendment as well as the numerous other factors bearing on his character and fitness for the office of Director of the ATF."

The remaining eight Senate offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

For now, it appears that the fate of Chipman's confirmation lies in the hands of King, the independent senator from Maine. 

With no Republicans expected to vote to confirm him, Democrats are relying on King to cast the tying vote that would require Vice President Kamala Harris to step in and break the deadlock in Chipman's favor. 

King hasn't yet indicated how he might vote on Chipman's nomination, but both gun safety advocates and opponents have been meeting with the senator in hopes of persuading him. 

This story has been updated to clarify that the GOP senators only received donations from the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.