Gun control advocates endorse GOP’s Toomey and Kirk in Senate races

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U.S. Senators Pat Toomey, R-Pa., seen here addressing the Senate, and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are receiving the backing of gun control advocates. (Photo: toomey.senate.gov)

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly this week gave their support to a pair of incumbent Republican Senators up for reelection in November.

Toomey has represented Pennsylvania in Congress since 1999 and has been the state’s junior Senator since 2011, lending his support to a high-profile bill to expand background checks on firearms sales to most private transactions. Kirk, the moderate junior senator from Illinois, in addition to throwing support to Toomey’s efforts, has repeatedly introduced legislation to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban.

“Republican Sens. Pat Toomey and Mark Kirk broke from the gun lobby and supported a bill to help prevent felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining firearms at gun shows and online, ” Giffords and Kelly wrote in a CNN op-ed Monday. “This week, they are earning our organization’s endorsement.”

The pair was also candid about dropping some $1.4 million into the race against New Hampshire incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte — like Toomey and Kirk a Republican — though not sharing their same voting record on expanded background checks. They wrote that Ayotte, “went against her constituents and voted to protect background check loopholes after Newtown, only to claim, come election season, that she actually supports background checks. No matter: Our organization has run advertising highlighting her vote and her deception. Now, polls have swung against her.”

As for where the money is coming from for the Giffords/Kelly group, research by the Open Secrets project shows they are bankrolled by large individual donations with West Coast Democratic philanthropists Connie Ballmer and Dagmar Dolby chipping in some $375,000 to the PAC itself this year alone. Ballmer and Dolby have dug into their deep pockets to back gun control voter initiatives in Washington and California.

Toomey’s campaign committee has raised over $13 million in contributions so far this year, which blows the average of $3.7 million per senate member out of the water, but still falls short of the $17 million he had access to during his 2010 Senate run. By comparison, his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, has only amassed $6.7 million this election cycle.

In addition to the endorsement garnered this week, Toomey is receiving some very real monetary support from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the form of $1,155,300 through his Independence USA PAC as well as accolades that mirrored Giffords.

“In the wake of Newtown, Pat Toomey crossed party lines to lead the fight to reduce gun violence in America by co-sponsoring legislation to close the background check loophole,” Bloomberg said in a statement issued by the group earlier this month.

Toomey made clear in a statement Monday he was on board with continuing the fight for more gun control.

“While protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, I am committed to bridging the partisan divide to crack down on illegal gun trafficking, close the terrorist gun loophole, require background checks on transactions at gun shows, over the Internet, and between non-family members, and also ensure Congress is funding research into our country’s gun violence crisis,” said Toomey as his office posted a clip of Vice President Biden vouching for the lawmaker on gun issues to a Sandy Hook Promise Champions Gala earlier this summer.

In Illinois, Kirk and Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth are neck and neck in terms of campaign war chests, with each raising $10-11 million this cycle. While Kirk’s large contributions come largely from business and finance sectors, Duckworth draws from unions and social groups such as Emily’s List.

In a statement welcoming the Giffords endorsement, Kirk reiterated his support for a renewed assault weapons ban, stepping up enforcement of firearms regulations and enacting a no fly/no buy law.

“The only way to break through the partisan gridlock in D.C. is by working across the aisle to reach bipartisan solutions, and I remain committed to working with Republicans and Democrats alike to get the job done and end the cycle of gun violence,” Kirk said.

The National Rifle Association is not listing current grades for Kirk or Toomey but in the past rated them “F” and “A” respectively. Kirk’s poor grade came in large part for his opposition to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms bill in 2005.