CAPITAL REGION — The National Rifle Association's powerful political action committee donated more than $5 million to political candidates nationally last year, and it been a consistent contributor to Republicans in Capital Region congressional candidates.
U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, who represents the eastern Mohawk Valley and lower Hudson Valley, received $5,950 from the NRA's Political Victory Fund in the 2016 election cycle, when the former state assemblyman was seeking the open 19th Congressional District seat in a hotly contested race.
He also received $2,000 last year, as he prepares for what could be another highly contested race this fall, with some of his potential Democratic opponents as well-funded or better-funded than he is. As of December, Federal Elections Commission reports show he had $744,000 in cash available.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, who has represented the North Country's 21st Congressional District since 2015, received $2,000 from the NRA's political action committee in the 2016 election cycle, according to the FEC, and $1,000 in 2017, as she prepares to face a large field of possible Democratic opponents. She has more than $1.1 million in the bank, far more than any of her potential challengers.
Both Faso and Stefanik were endorsed by the NRA in their 2016 election bids, something U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, conspicuously wasn't. The NRA has donated no money to Tonko in recent election cycles.
And it is Tonko alone among the Capital Region congressional delegation who has talked about gun control and urged action in response to Wednesday afternoon's mass murders at a Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 14 students and three adults were killed by a 19-year-old former student wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.
Faso and Stefanik both responded to the incident on Thursday with statements that did not mention guns, while expressing sympathy for their victims and their families.
"As we learn more about the senseless and tragic shooting in Florida, my prayers are with the victims and all the students, teachers, law enforcement and families impacted by this violent attack. We must do better to understand how to recognize warning signs and better protect our communities," Faso said in a prepared statment.
Stefanik called the shootings "heartbreaking," and called for thoughts and prayers for those effected.
"In the coming days, we will learn more about how this happened and hopefully how we can work to prevent something like this from happening again," she said in a statement. "Right now, we pray for those who lost their lives and those who were hurt by this tragedy, and we thank the first responders and law enforcement officers who worked heroically to save lives."
The NRA itself has issued no statement on the shootings since they occurred, and its website continues to prominently feature a 2016 article, "10 Reasons To Own An AR-15."
Christopher Mann, a political science professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, said it can he hard to tell if contributions from groups like the NRA actually influence politicians who then vote that group's way on the issues.
"It's very hard to tell the difference between when the NRA is supporting someone who already holds its positions and when NRA contributions are influencing people," Mann said. "It's hard to say it's changing voting behavior."
He noted, however, that the NRA typically contributes in races that are competitive enough for its money to potentially make a difference — it didn't, for instance, contribute any money to Tonko's Republican challenger in 2016.
"When you talk Faso and Stefanik, their races are at least marginal competitive, and (the NRA will) contribute to those races because they want to make a difference," Mann said.
Mann said it's hard to know whether the Parkland killings will change the debate about guns going into the 2018 elections, but said it could if the public comes to see the issue as one about "kid safety rather than gun control."