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Gun-control group co-founded by Bloomberg announces $60 million spending plan for 2020 elections

A boy holds up a sign during a rally in New York organized by gun-control organizations Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The political arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, a group co-founded by Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, plans to spend $60 million this year to defeat President Trump and other politicians who have resisted new gun regulations, the group announced Monday.

The decision to double spending over 2018 levels, as the National Rifle Association is struggling with a governance crisis, is meant to send a statement about the growing power of the gun regulation movement.

“The gun safety movement has never been stronger. We have millions of supporters, and we are going to seize the moment,” said Shannon Watts, another co-founder of Everytown who runs its subsidiary grass-roots arm Moms Demand Action. “We are going to compete at every level.”

Everytown leaders say the money will be targeted broadly to include organizing, paid advertising and voter registration in a variety of contests, from state legislative races to competitive U.S. House and Senate contests and the presidential campaign.

A memo laying out plans for the spending names North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, both Democrats, as allies whom the group will defend. It names two Republican senators, Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), as targets for defeat.

The political strategy is being directed by Charlie Kelly, who ran House Majority PAC in 2018, a Democratic super PAC that coordinated independent spending to retake the House. He said the gun issue has continued to grow as a top-tier concern for voters, particularly in suburban communities where Democrats have been making their biggest gains since Trump’s election.

“Gun safety is going to be one of the most powerful issues in the election this year,” Kelly said. “We are going to work to ensure that high-likelihood voters in the suburbs know where their candidates stand.”

The National Rifle Association has not announced its 2020 spending plans, after spending $54.4 million on ads during the 2016 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Since then, the group has been outspent in smaller contests, including the 2019 state elections in Virginia.

“The NRA will be very active in 2020, as we are in every election cycle,” NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter said in a statement. “Unlike Michael Bloomberg, the NRA won’t be pouring billions into the radical groups that are conspiring to steal freedom from other Americans. Our activities in 2020 will be smart, strategic, and reflective of the passion of our members, who turn out to vote. Our opponents cannot say the same.”

The NRA has been raising alarms online about the growing political prominence of Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who announced his presidential campaign in November.

“Just like NYC and Virginia, he will try to buy the White House,” the group warned in a tweet shortly after the announcement. “We must fight back.”

Bloomberg has been the top backer of Everytown since it was formed as a successor to his previous group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. But in recent years, the group has become more financially independent, with Bloomberg contributing between a quarter and a third of the budget, Watts said. She would not say what portion of the $60 million would be directly funded by the billionaire this cycle.

Watts said that after the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, the group saw its small-dollar donor pool grow from 70,000 to 375,000. Moms Demand Action now has 700 chapters around the country, with hundreds of thousands of “active volunteers,” she said.

Giffords, a gun regulation group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), has also launched a 2020 political program, while her husband, Mark Kelly, mounts a Democratic campaign to take McSally’s U.S. Senate seat.

The group spent $750,000 on ads after a recent shooting, calling for the Senate to vote on expanding background checks to include private sales. The group also hosted a forum for presidential candidates and a video series highlighting the positions of the Democratic candidates for president.

“Starting last fall Giffords has been investing in the kinds of initiatives to underscore that gun safety is a kitchen table issue,” Giffords Executive Director Peter Ambler said. “Our programming this year will reflect that.”

In 2018, Everytown endorsed more than 3,000 politicians as “Gun Sense Candidates,” a designation meant to assure voters that the candidates will support greater firearm regulations.

Charlie Kelly said the group expected even more candidates to earn the seal of approval this cycle, joining each of the major Democratic presidential hopefuls.