By Heidi Przybyla
WASHINGTON — After losing court cases challenging state gun-control laws, the National Rifle Association in the mid-1990s set out to replace those making such rulings.
By helping finance the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, which on its website says it works on behalf of law-enforcement officials and crime victims, the NRA began working to elect judges — as well as prosecutors — friendly to its pro-gun agenda.
The LEAA is gaining fresh scrutiny as Washington focuses on the renewed gun-control debate following the mass shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Advocates for tighter restrictions are concerned that the LEAA will become active in the debate, creating the impression the law- enforcement community is split over the issue.
The group's activities at the state level promoting judicial candidates are legal and not unusual in U.S. politics. What has been less known is the extent of its financial backing from the NRA, the nation's leading gun-rights lobby.
The LEAA received at least $2 million from the NRA from 2004 to 2010, according to a report based on tax records to be released today by the Washington-based Center for American Progress. During many of those years, NRA donations accounted for about one quarter of LEAA's funds, and in 2009 NRA money represented at least one third of the group's revenue, according to the report.
The study by the center, which tends to support Democratic policies, was obtained by Bloomberg News.
The LEAA, organized as a nonprofit group, hasn't detailed its funding sources and isn't required by law to disclose them.
"People pay less attention to state politics than they do to national politics or local politics," said Robert Spitzer, an author of four books on the history of gun control. "That's been fertile ground for the NRA."