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Johnson has received about $223,000 in direct donations from the gun lobby since he won office in 2016.
But the gun lobby has actually spent much more on the senator, tallying more than $1 million. That includes spending against Johnson opponents.
That money wasn;t given directly to Johnson, but is still aimed at helping him win elections.
Following the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, the U.S. Senate has moved to address gun violence – a measure some argues does too little, while others say goes too far.
In Wisconsin, Democrats running for the U.S. Senate have been targeting incumbent Ron Johnson, a Republican seeking a third term. That includes Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who in a May 27, 2022 news release said:
"Ron Johnson will do or say anything to distract from the $1.2 million he’s taken from the gun lobby."
Has Johnson really accepted that much money from the pro-gun lobby?
When we reached out to Barnes’ campaign, press secretary Lauren Chou pointed to data collected by Brady United, a nonpartisan gun violence prevention group founded after the passage of the Brady Law in 1993. The data outlines which U.S. senators have benefitted the most from donations from the National Rifle Association.
According to the data, Johnson has received nearly $1.27 million from the NRA during his time as a senator, including both direct campaign contributions and indirect spending, such as TV commercials.
OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan nonprofit research group that tracks money in politics, had similar numbers. According to its database on spending by gun interest groups, Johnson has received $222,529 in direct support, in addition to more than $1 million in outside spending since he took office in 2017. (That counts spending in support of Johnson, or against his opponents).
That leads to an important distinction we want to underline.
While Johnson has received about $1.2 million in overall support from pro-gun groups since his first election in 2010, only about $223,000 has been directly accepted by his campaign. As noted, the other $1 million has been spent on his behalf by those groups.
So, Barnes is off in how he characterizes it.
"We determined approximately 83 percent of the dollars they say Senator Johnson has ‘taken from the gun lobby’ are independent expenditures over which he had absolutely no control, and in fact, did not have any personal knowledge of," said Alexa Henning, a Johnson campaign spokesperson.
For context, a May 27, 2022 report, TMJ4-TV in Milwaukee took a look at how the gun lobby’s spending on Johnson compares to other politicians.
Johnson had the 15th highest total of any current elected officials in the U.S., the report said. It also noted that the NRA has spent more than $771,000 against Wisconsin’s other U.S. Senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin. That’s the 10th highest dollar amount spent against any sitting elected official.
Barnes claimed Johnson has taken $1.2 million from the gun lobby.
Data shows that Johnson has received – through both direct and indirect contributions - about $1.2 million in support since his first campaign started in 2016.
But of that, only about $200,000 went directly to his campaign. The remainder – more than $1 million – represents outside spending either in support of Johnson, or against his opponents over time. So, Barnes is off in his wording.
Our definition for Half True is "the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."
That fits here
Mandela Barnes, press release, May 27, 2022
Brady United, "Which Senators have benefitted the most from NRA money?" June 13, 2022
OpenSecrets, "Gun Rights vs. Gun Control," June 13, 2022
TMJ4, "Breaking down NRA’s influence in Wisconsin politics," May 27, 2022
Email conversation with Alexa Henning, Johnson’s campaign, June 14, 2022
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