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
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 peopleand because
the NCIPC has understandably chosen to treat the 40,000 annual
fatal firearms-related injuries as a public health problemthe
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
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 injuriesAmerica's
second leading cause of injury deathsit 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
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 appointmentgranted to him by Gingrichyet to be
made. So long as the commission's makeup remains uncertain, don't
be surprised if the soft money continues to flow in.
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