IT ONLY LOOKS DEAD
After playing a key role in the 1994 midterm revolt, winning 19 of the 24 races it targeted, the National Rifle Association had few victories this past election, fostering the impression that it had fallen on hard times. But don't try telling that to people at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, who are all too aware of the NRA's power on Capitol Hill.
The NCIPC is about as unthreatening and inoffensive a federal agency you're likely to find, devoted as it is to injury prevention. But, because firearms have been known to injure people—and because the NCIPC has understandably chosen to treat the 40,000 annual fatal firearms-related injuries as a public health problem—the NRA views the agency as a bunch of jack-booted scientists, hell-bent on restricting Americans' Second Amendment rights.
This past fiscal year, the NCIPC devoted $2.6 million of its $49 million budget to studying the role of firearms in causing and preventing injuries, much as it devoted funds to examining the roles of motor vehicles or playgrounds in injury cause and prevention. But when the NCIPC requested the same $2.6 million for a firearms-related injury study for the coming fiscal year, the proposal encountered stiff resistance from the NRA's congressional supporters.
In the House Appropriations Labor and Health Subcommittee, Republican Congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas sought to zero out the study's funds, but the subcommittee's chairman, Illinois Republican Jon Porter, staved off Dickey's challenge. Undaunted, Dickey pressed his case before the full House Appropriations Committee, where 19 of the committee's 32 Republicans, including himself, had received campaign contributions from the NRA. While many Democrats were initially hostile to the idea of cutting the $2.6 million from the NCIPC's budget, they relented when Republicans proposed to transfer the money to a rural health program, a pet cause of the ranking member, Wisconsin Democrat David Obey. (The rural health program is administered by the Health Resources Services Administration, a public health agency completely separate from the CDC.) Democrats also acquiesced when Republicans inserted unusually detailed language into the NCIPC's appropriations package, instructing the agency that it could undertake scientific work on firearms-related injuries but could not promote or advocate gun control. Of course, the NRA was alone in deeming the agency's previous work as unscientific advocacy.
The Senate gave the NCIPC a modest reprieve by restoring $2.6 million to its appropriations package, but the Senate specifically earmarked the money for studying traumatic brain injuries. If the NCIPC wishes to continue its study of firearms-related injuries—America's second leading cause of injury deaths—it will have to find the funds in its already squeezed discretionary budget, funds it most likely does not have. What the NCIPC does have, unfortunately, is a keen understanding of just how very alive the NRA still is.
President Clinton and both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders received high praise this past summer when, over the strenuous objections of the gaming industry, they created a nine-member commission to study the impact of legalized gambling. Apparently, the $4.5 million in contributions that gambling interests had poured into congressional and presidential campaigns and into the soft-money accounts of both parties since 1991 were not enough to defuse the threat of more federal regulation of legalized gambling. For once, it seemed, politicians had ignored the money and had stood on principle.
Or were they just upping the ante?
Since it became apparent that President Clinton, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott would each appoint three members to a gambling commission, gambling interests have increased the pace of their giving to both parties. Since July, gambling interests have dropped more than $1.5 million into both parties' soft-money accounts, with about $700,000 going to the Republicans and $850,000 to the Democrats, according to preliminary FEC reports.
The largest single contribution since the announced creation of the commission comes from Mirage Resorts, Inc. of Las Vegas, which gave $150,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee on October 11. The Democrats, in October, received their largest single bundle in four contributions from the Mashantucket Pequot Nation totaling $219,000.
The funny thing is, the legislation creating the commission called for appointments by October 2. For reasons not entirely clear, Clinton, Gingrich, and Lott ignored this deadline. Perhaps they used the extra time to mull over their choices. Then again, maybe they didn't want to close the betting windows while the gambling industry was in such a generous mood. Either way, this postponement amounted to some $750,000 in additional soft-money contributions from the gambling industry in October and November alone, with money from subsequent months still unaccounted for because of later FEC filing deadlines.
At press time, some three months after the original deadline, five members of the commission have been appointed, with President Clinton's three slots still empty and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt's one appointment—granted to him by Gingrich—yet to be made. So long as the commission's makeup remains uncertain, don't be surprised if the soft money continues to flow in.