Vermont gun-control group outspends top corporations on lobbyists

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
MONTPELIER, Vt. — A gun-control group committed to universal background checks was the third-largest spender on lobbyists at the Vermont statehouse this quarter, outspending many of the biggest corporate interests in the Green Mountain State.

Gun Sense Vermont, a recently formed group that bills itself as an “independent, grass-roots organization started by Vermonters,” spent $39,000 for lobbyists for the quarter ending July 25, according to records kept by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The anti-gun group outspent Anheuser-Busch ($34,950), Comcast ($21,000), Altria ($26,674) and Green Mountain Power ($32,880). Only Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee ($45,000) and Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (47,349) had more cash on hand to influence lawmakers.

Gun Sense Vermont President Ann Braden, a transplant from Connecticut, announced in May the group would focus on a single issue during the 2015 legislative session: universal background checks for firearms sold in the state.

To get its agenda passed, Gun Sense Vermont hired state influence powerhouse Necrason Group. Seven Days reported the Necrason Group was the second most profitable lobbying firm in the state, raking in $944,000 in lobbying compensation in 2013.

Lobbyists registered as employed by Gun Sense Vermont include Adam Necrason, Michael Sirotkin, Jessica Oski, David Mickenberg and Rebecca Ramos. Mickenberg, who is also a partner at Burlington law firm Mickenberg, Dunn, Lachs and Smith, spent six years working for the George Soros Open Society Institute. Sirotkin, a co-founder of Necrason Group, stepped down from the lobbying giant in February when he was appointed a state senator, filling the seat of the late state Sen. Sally Fox.

Gun Sense Vermont’s $39,000 dwarfed its reported revenue of $12,349, leading Second Amendment advocates to demand the group reveal the source of its funding.
“Gun Sense has been claiming that they are a grassroots local organization with no outside influence. There’s no way a group with maybe 200 members can come up with that kind of money,” Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, told Vermont Watchdog.

Cutler said the massive sum likely came from national special interest groups, such as Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. The former New York City mayor launched the group with a pledge of $50 million to get strict gun control laws passed in states across America. The thought Bloomberg might funnel cash into local “grassroots” gun control campaigns has also been suggested by Kristin Goss, a gun-policy expert at Duke University.

Eddie Garcia, founder of Vermont Citizens Defense League, said the idea of having outsiders set state law was “not going to fly with Vermonters.” Garcia said local groups simply can’t generate that kind of money on their own.

“They spent $39,000 on their lobbyist … but their own contributions are less than a quarter of that. So where does all this money come from?” he asked.

Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, told Vermont Watchdog that Gun Sense’s big money equals big influence at the statehouse.
“These activists are trying to buy some big clout,” Hughes said. “They’re the third largest lobbyist spender in the state for the quarter. They spent more than Verizon, FairPoint and Green Mountain Power, the biggest utility in the state — $39,000 in Vermont is a lot of money.”

According to Hughes, Gun Sense seeks gun carry permits, a ban on semi-automatic guns and limited capacity magazines, in addition to background checks.
While Gun Sense Vermont claims such policies are necessary to stop gun violence, Second Amendment advocates like Hughes say Vermont has broad gun freedom yet the lowest gun crime in the nation. The Green Mountain State averages two gun-related homicides per year.
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