Giffords Anti-Gun Super PAC Outspending the DSCC in New Hampshire

Gun control group hasn’t spent a dime in any other federal race

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) / AP
October 6, 2016

The gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) has outspent the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to aid New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign.

The group, Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), was created with the goal of "engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and supporting lawmakers willing to take a stand for responsible policies," according to its website. Its election records show that it has directed its fire against just one candidate at the federal level: Hassan’s opponent, freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R.).

ARS has spent more than $2.8 million in attack ads against Ayotte, according to the Federal Election Commission. The group’s super PAC is the fifth largest independent spender in the state and has outspent the Democratic Party’s official campaign committee by $100,000. It has only ramped up its attacks in the closing days of one of the nation’s most competitive races—one that could determine Senate control in 2017. The group has spent more than $1 million on ad buys since September 29.

ARS did not respond to a request for comment.

The group has followed the Hassan campaign’s playbook of tying Ayotte to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The group's executive director, Peter Ambler, pledged that they would continue to flood New Hampshire airwaves as Election Day approaches.

"In the coming month, we will be working to ensure that the Vocal Majority of Americans who support responsible change to our gun laws will stand up and speak out on Election Day against the irresponsible positions that Senator Ayotte and Donald Trump share," Ambler said in a statement released following the candidates’ debate on Monday.

The Ayotte campaign said that ARS’s sole focus on their candidate demonstrated that it is strictly a political organization, rather than a grassroots campaign interested in curbing gun violence or reforming gun laws.

"Governor Hassan's special interest allies have spent millions of dollars on false ads attacking Kelly, proving that they're more interested in playing politics than in finding solutions," campaign spokesman Liz Johnson told the Washington Free Beacon.

New Hampshire has the highest gun ownership rate in New England and ranks 13th in the country, with nearly 15 firearms per 1,000 people. Hassan has been a staunch opponent of expanding access to guns during her two terms as governor. She stepped up those efforts in 2016, vetoing three concealed carry permitting bills in three months.

"Our concealed weapons permitting system gives an important oversight role to local law enforcement, while allowing for appeals through appropriate channels," she said in a July veto announcement. "I have heard concerns from law enforcement and public safety officials, as well as citizens across New Hampshire, about allowing individuals to carry concealed guns without a license."

The vetoes earned her a "D" grade from the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, one of the state’s largest Second Amendment groups.

Ayotte has faced her own problems among pro-gun groups after compromising on gun control bills considered in the wake of the Orlando nightclub terrorist attack perpetrated by ISIS sympathizer Omar Mateen. While she opposed a bill that would have barred people on the No Fly List from purchasing firearms, she later backed a compromise bill that added due process protections for prospective gun buyers. She received a D- grade from the New Hampshire gun group in rankings released in July.

Those grades have not stopped ARS from painting Ayotte as a stooge for the National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest pro-Second Amendment group.

"She stands with the Washington gun lobby. They fund her campaigns," the group said in its first anti-Ayotte ad released in June.

The ad was criticized by fact checkers, who pointed out that pro-gun advocates totaled fewer than one percent of donations to Ayotte over her career. The Ayotte campaign defended Ayotte's moderate record on gun control, adding that ARS is more interested in politics than actually achieving its stated goals.

"Kelly has voted to strengthen background checks and encourage states to submit relevant mental health records into the system, helped lead a bipartisan bill to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, led efforts to strengthen mental health services, and supports increasing prosecutions of those who try to buy guns illegally," Johnson said.

Ayotte has received little support from pro-gun groups in 2016, with the NRA spending less than $50,000 in independent expenditures on the race. Hassan has benefitted from massive expenditures from ARS and a $27,000 print and digital ad buy by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.

The New Hampshire Senate race has attracted one of the highest rates of outside spending in the country. Republican and Democratic groups have spent more than $52 million to influence who will represent New Hampshire's 1.3 million residents in the Senate—approximately $40 per resident. The Granite State trails only large swing states Pennsylvania and Ohio for outside expenditures, and doubles Florida’s super PAC spending.

Ayotte leads by less than 2 points, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.