GOP candidates won't say if they'll return money from group backing Kenosha gunman

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The Gun Owners of America PAC has given tens of thousands of dollars to Republican lawmakers and candidates.

A pro-gun group is rushing to raise money off of the multiple shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and to aid the legal defense of the man charged with two homicides that resulted. But none of the GOP lawmakers and candidates who have received campaign donations from the group this cycle will say they will return them.

The Virginia-based Gun Owners of America presents itself as the less-compromising alternative to the National Rifle Association and claims to represent "over 2 million members and activists."

On Aug. 27, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with a number of felonies, including homicide, after multiple shootings in Kenosha left two anti-racism protesters dead.

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In addition to the two counts of first-degree homicide, Rittenhouse has been charged with one count of attempted first-degree homicide, two counts of endangering safety with a deadly weapon, and one count of possession of a deadly weapon by someone under 18.

That evening, the Gun Owners of America sent out an email with the subject line "GOA comes to Kyle Rittenhouse's defense." After asking recipients for a $25 donation to join the tax-exempt group, the organization bragged of its efforts to aid the accused Kenosha killer.

"GOA has reached out to Rittenhouse's attorneys and the Lake County Public Defender's office, and we have our own attorneys and use of force experts looking into this case, too," the group's senior vice president Erich Pratt wrote. "In the meantime, we demand fair treatment from the media, because up till now, their coverage has been horrific. With no evidence, they have labeled Kyle as a racist and a vigilante, but that just indicates how the media elites view all gun owners."

Last week, the group sent another email asking members to "upgrade" their membership with an additional donation and praising Donald Trump for defending Rittenhouse. "These are the words of a man who believes in the natural, God-given right to self-defense," the group's director of federal affairs wrote.

According to campaign finance filings, the Gun Owners of America political action committee has distributed at least $45,500 to federal lawmakers and candidates so far in the 2020 campaign cycle — all of it to Republicans.

The recipients are:

Sen. Steve Daines

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana received at least $10,000 for his reelection campaign. Gun Owners of America chairman Tim Macy called him "the A+ rated, 100% supporter of your right to keep and bear arms" in an email last week, and "one of the Second Amendment's most trusted friends in all of Congress."

A Daines spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

Rep. Mike Garcia

California Rep. Mike Garcia received at least $5,000 for his May special election runoff.

A Garcia spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

Rep. Thomas Massie

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky received at least $5,000 for his reelection campaign.

A spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story, but Massie said last week that Rittenhouse showed "incredible restraint" by not firing an entire magazine into the crowd.

Rep. Greg Murphy

Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina received at least $500 for his reelection campaign.

A Murphy spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

Rep. Chip Roy

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas received at least $5,000 for his reelection campaign.

A Roy spokesperson said in an email: "We will not be returning any contributions from Gun Owners of America and we appreciate their support."

Nick Freitas

Virginia state Del. Nick Freitas received at least $5,000 for his challenge to Democratic incumbent Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

A Freitas spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

Yvette Herrell

Former New Mexico state Rep. Yvette Herrell received at least $5,000 for her challenge to incumbent Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

A Herrell spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

Matt Rosendale

Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale received at least $5,000 for his campaign to replace incumbent Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, who is running for governor of the state.

A Rosendale spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story.

Marjorie Taylor Greene

QAnon conspiracy fan Marjorie Taylor Greene received at least $5,000 for her campaign to replace retiring Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Graves.

A spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry for this story, but Greene tweeted last week that she would not vote to convict Rittenhouse "of any charges against him" as "he acted in self defense against violent radical adult men attacking him and threatening his life. Exactly why gun rights are important."

In an email on Tuesday, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, wrote, "Any candidate willing to take a donation or endorsement from Gun Owners of America not only condones the organization's defense of the Kenosha shooter, but they're also co-signing their dangerous conspiracy theories about some of our country's most tragic mass shootings, as well as their radicalized 'guns everywhere' agenda."

A spokesperson for Gun Owners of America did not respond to a request for comment.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.