By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The National Rifle Association has taken a lot of heat following the deadly school shooting in Florida. Critics have targeted not only the group’s message, but its influence in Washington.

But when it comes to money in politics, which groups spend the most?

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As it turns out, it depends how you crunch the numbers.

Robin Phinney is a research director at the Humphrey School in the University of Minnesota.

“There’s a lot of money in politics. Often it goes to where people don’t think it goes,” she said. “There are a couple of different ways that groups that want to put money in politics do so.”

One way is lobbying current lawmakers in Congress. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, here is the lobbying top 10 list for 2017:

  1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce — $82 million
  2. National Association of Realtors — $54 million
  3. Business Roundtable — $27 million
  4. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — $25 million
  5. Blue Cross Blue Shield — $24 million
  6. American Hospital Association — $22 million
  7. American Medical Association — $21 million
  8. Alphabet (Google’s parent company) — $18 million
  9. AT&T — $16 million
  10. Boeing — $16 million

To compare, the NRA spent $5 million on lobbying in 2017.

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“When it comes to lobbying, the big spenders tend to be groups like the big business groups,” Phinney said. “They also tend to be the health care industry.”

She also says different groups use different strategies with their money. The bigger way money enters politics is during campaigns through outside spending.

“Outside spending is really this kind of funny term that’s evolved a lot in the last 10 years,” Phinney said. “A lot of it is TV ads.

Here are the biggest outside spenders in the 2016 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

  1. Priorities USA (a PAC supporting Hillary Clinton) — $133 million
  2. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — $103 million
  3. Right To Rise USA (a PAC supporting Jeb Bush) — $86 million
  4. Senate Leadership Fund (a conservative PAC) — $85 million
  5. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — $80 million
  6. Senate Majority PAC (supporting Democratic candidates) — $75 million
  7. National Republican Congressional Committee — $73 million
  8. Conservative Solutions PAC — $55 million
  9. National Rifle Association — $54 million
  10. House Majority PAC (supporting Democratic candidates) — $47 million

Groups can also give to individual candidates but those amounts tend to be less because of a cap.

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In 2016, the NRA gave $830,000 to candidates for federal office. Other groups gave even more, like the Carpenters Union and Teachers Union which gave $1.7 million. Comcast gave more than $3 million to individual candidates.

Heather Brown