A political action committee launched by parents of Parkland students is scaling back its 2018 midterm plans in the wake of disappointing fund raising totals.
The group, Families vs. Assault Rifles, was launched in May by Jeffrey Kasky and Sergio Rozenblat, the parents of students who survived the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The pair worked with Matt Gohd, the group’s California-based executive director, who said he was inspired by the shooting to become more involved politically.
“I have a teenage daughter, I wanted to feel like I had done everything I could to make sure this didn’t happen again,” Gohd said.
At its launch, Gohd, a long-time Democratic donor who has worked at numerous investment firms, told the Miami Herald it had an ambitious goal: to raise $10 million and act as a counterweight to the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful and successful politcal activist groups in the country. It planned to target politicians who opposed gun safety regulations. So far, it’s only raised $230,000 – much of which came soon after the group was first launched. From July through the end of September, the group took in less than $30,000 and had only $13,000 left in the bank..
“None of us had a grasp of how difficult this would be,” Gohd said. “We needed more resources, more people.”
The group is currently “regrouping,” Gohd said, as it considers its next steps, with a thought to greater activity in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
“I would say it was idealistic of us to think that we could get something through at this point,” Gohd said.
Democrats may be wary of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in other parts of the country, but she’s welcome in South Florida.
With the midterm elections just weeks away, Parkland students and parents convened Wednesday with Pelosi in Coral Springs to game plan for November. The round table discussion focused on gun control, moderated by U.S. Rep Ted Deutch, was equal parts emotional venting and strategizing.
Pelosi called the activists and parents a “blessing to our country,” and said because of the energy coming out of Parkland, the issue of gun control would top the Democratic Party’s agenda in the House of Representatives if they take control.
“I admire you so much,” she said. “You have the purpose, the generosity of spirit. You have the marchers — you have people who will go out there to make a difference — and you just have a relentless, persistent, dissatisfied approach.”
A national gun control group co-founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is endorsing Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the nation’s most expensive House race.
Everytown for Gun Safety announced Tuesday that Curbelo was one out of 10 Florida lawmakers running for statewide or federal office who received an endorsement, and the only Republican on the list. Curbelo faces Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powellin the November general election for a Miami-to-Key West seat that has seen more TV spending from both sides than any other House race in the country.
“A sincere national dialogue and Congressional action to modernize gun safety has remained elusive for far too long,” Curbelo said in a statement. “Public officials — and our society as a whole — must work together to close outdated loopholes and address vulnerabilities in our laws, while still protecting Americans’ Second Amendment rights. I’m humbled by this endorsement, and I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to keep Americans safe.”
Curbelo has not been able to pass substantive gun control legislation over the past two years in Washington, though he did introduce a bill after the Las Vegas shooting that would ban devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire like automatic weapons and he criticized the National Rifle Association when it didn’t back his bill. His campaign also donated money to a transportation fund that allowed Parkland students to attend the March For Our Lives in Washington.
Mucarsel-Powell has also made guns a part of her campaign message, noting in ads that she lost her father to gun violence when she was 24. She supports an assault weapons ban while Curbelo has said an assault weapons ban should be “on the table.”
Everytown is one of the nation’s largest gun control organizations and announced on Monday that it plans to dump at least $2 million to help the Democratic candidates seeking Florida cabinet positions — and Republicans running for the state Senate who helped pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act over the objections of the NRA. The organization has also made six-figure donations to Democrat Andrew Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign.
“Everytown is a bipartisan organization and we support candidates of both parties who stand up for gun violence prevention,” spokesperson Kate Folmar said in a statement. “Both Rep. Curbelo and his opponent are champions of gun violence prevention. Rep. Curbelo has a proven track record of Congressional leadership on gun safety issues and we are proud to endorse him.”
Gun rights have motivated portions of the Republican base in Florida for years, but the script has changed in 2018.
The National Rifle Association sued the state of Florida after Gov. Rick Scott and 67 state lawmakers with an “A” rating from the nation’s largest gun group signed a bill that bans anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm. Congress passed a bill that authorizes funding for school safety measures after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, but hasn’t taken up other ideas that would limit access to firearms. Republicans running in competitive congressional races across Florida say they are open to a ban on assault weapons.
Parkland and the March For Our Lives movement started by a group of Broward County high school students have thrust gun politics into the top tier of issues ahead of the 2018 elections, where Democrats are hoping to keep Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat and flip up to a half dozen congressional seats that could determine which party wins the majority in the House of Representatives.
“Even if you go back 10 years, it’s amazing how much this issue has changed,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign. “If you looked at the polling, people supported background checks and banning certain types of weapons, but the entire energy for voting was on the other side. A larger swath of the population is saying that if you’re not reasonable about gun safety, we’re not going to vote for you.”
Though Parkland is in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County, congressional candidates in nearby Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties have changed their tune on guns in the last year. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning district, called on Congress to ban devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function like automatic rifles after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast cited his military experience when calling for an assault weapons ban after Parkland. Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican, said this week that she supports background checks on guns and is open to an assault-weapons ban.
All three breezed through their respective Republican primaries even though Mast drew two challengers after announcing his stance against assault weapons, and Salazar faced a host of challengers who were more conservative on guns.
“The threat that the NRA has made for years is that if you oppose us, you will lose,” Schale said, adding that zero Republican incumbents who signed the state-level gun bill or called for more gun restrictions after Parkland lost their primaries. “If you look at folks like Brian Mast who came out for an assault weapons ban... it’s hard to imagine in the past that a GOP member of Congress could come out with that position without being completely terrified of the NRA.”
Cameron Kasky became one of the most recognizable faces of the March For Our Lives Movement after he helped raise millions of dollars in a matter of days for a gun-control rally and confronted Sen. Marco Rubio on television after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting .
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior spent weeks organizing a massive march in Washington that morphed into a nationwide movement and summer bus tour, with an eye toward the upcoming November election.
Now, Kasky is leaving the group.
“I’m proud of everything my friends have done, everything they’re doing, and my focus on opening these conversations to people who disagree with me makes me even more invested in just how important the work they’re doing is,” Kasky said in an email.
Kasky first announced his decision to leave March For Our Lives in an interview with Fox News Radio’s Guy Benson on Wednesday, where he also expressed regret for the way he talked to Rubio during a town hall event broadcast on CNN. At the town hall, Kasky said, “Senator Rubio, it’s hard to look at you and not look down a barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nikolas Cruz, but the point is you’re here and there some people who are not.” He then grilled the Republican senator over accepting political contributions from the National Rifle Association.
“I look back on that and I say, you know what, there were people who had just been buried and when you’re looking at somebody that you find might in some way have been complicit in this murderer obtaining the weapon it’s hard not to say something like that,” Kasky said to Fox. “But, I went into that wanting less conversation and more to embarrass Rubio and that was my biggest flaw.”
Kasky also said he regrets referring to Cruz by name during the town hall and that he met people during the March For Our Lives bus tour this summer in Texas who share different political beliefs than his, but that he came away wanting to understand more about their differences.
“This summer when March For Our Lives went on the summer tour that we embarked on I met that person in Texas who got that semi-automatic weapon because that’s how they like to protect their family,” Kasky told Fox. “I met the 50-some-odd percent of women who are pro-life, even though I thought it was preposterous that a woman could be pro-life and not pro-choice at the time. I learned that a lot of our issues politically come from a lack of understanding of other perspectives and also the fact that so often young conservatives and young liberals will go into debate, like I said earlier, trying to beat the other one as oppose to come to an agreement... I’m working on some efforts to encourage bipartisanship or at least discussion that is productive and help a lot of people avoid the mistakes that I made.”
Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Brett Kavanaugh, so they turned his Supreme Court confirmation hearing into a spectacle.
Protesters dressed up in costumes from the dystopian TV drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” dozens were arrested after interrupting proceedings in the Senate Judiciary Committee and one senator compared himself to Spartacus after daring his colleagues to expel him for releasing supposedly confidential emails from Kavanaugh that had actually been declassified hours earlier.
But the Parkland shooting also played a role in arguments against Kavanaugh’s supposedly genial personality and future rulings on gun issues if confirmed to the lifetime position on the nation’s highest court.
Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Eastmond recounted in detail her experience on Valentine’s Day, when she hid beneath Nicholas Dworet’s body to shield herself from the bullets. At least one senator, Cory Booker of New Jersey, was in tears.
Then she turned to Fred Guttenberg’s snubbed handshake from earlier in the week, when the Supreme Court nominee declined to shake the hand of the Parkland parent and gun control activist whose daughter Jaime was among the victims.
“If Kavanaugh doesn’t even have the decency to shake hands with a father of a victim, he definitely won’t have the decency to make life-changing decisions that affect real people,” Eastmond testified.
Brett Kavanaugh stood up for a lunch break, began to button up his jacket and turned around to find the outstretched hand of Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland mass shooting on Valentine’s Day.
Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, declined to shake it.
“Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as the morning session ended,” Guttenberg tweeted. “Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg’s dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence.”
The three-second exchange instantly went viral, as Democrats are trying to muster attacks on Kavanaugh even though they likely don’t have the votes to stop his eventual confirmation. The first leg of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday was frequently interrupted by protesters in the room, with encouragement from Democrats.
The White House said Guttenberg, a vocal advocate for increased gun-control measures who has traveled to Capitol Hill frequently over the last six months to push for changes in legislation, was “an unidentified individual” and that security intervened before Kavanaugh could shake his hand.
“As Judge Kavanaugh left for his lunch break, an unidentified individual approached him,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah tweeted. “Before the Judge was able to shake his hand, security had intervened.”
Guttenberg called Shah's version of events "incorrect."
Fred Guttenberg wasn’t happy with Wells Fargo’s decision to keep banking with the gun industry after the Parkland shooting, in which his daughter Jaime was one of the 17 people killed, but he was willing to continue talking when the bank’s CEO told him they wanted to remain politically neutral.
Guttenberg, angrier still with what he perceived as the bank’s hypocritical stance, emailed Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan asking him to reconsider their gun policy now that they waded into marijuana politics.
He didn’t get a response.
And the final straw came Monday night, when CNN reported that Bloomberg News reassigned a reporter who covered Wells Fargo after the banking giant complained about the reporter’s coverage of Wells Fargo’s ties to the gun industry.
“I think people ought to move their accounts. We’ve seen what Wells Fargo will do to consumers in the past and now we see what they do to those who disagree with them,” Guttenberg said in an interview. “I could have gone public multiple times. When I read today that they’re actually seeking to punish people for covering their bad behavior when it comes to guns, now I’m going to go public because I’m angry.”
Guttenberg, a vocal proponent of increased gun control measures who is working to elect lawmakers who agree with him on the issue, said the Wells Fargo CEO’s behavior is different than others he’s confronted in public, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
“Senator Rubio, he and I have had many private conversations because maybe one day we’ll try to come together,” Guttenberg said. “It became a problem to me when it became clear [Wells Fargo was] lying. I went public when they actually took action against someone.”
Fred Guttenberg is going after the one South Florida congressman who accepted National Rifle Association money after the nation's deadliest high school shooting where Guttenberg's daughter Jaime was one of 17 people killed.
Guttenberg, one of the most outspoken anti-gun Parkland parents, cut an ad that blasts Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart for supporting the NRA on behalf of Diaz-Balart's Democratic challenger, former judge Mary Barzee Flores.
“Mario Diaz-Balart, after February 14th, after my daughter and 16 others died, you had a choice to make. And you chose to take money from the NRA,” Guttenberg says directly to Diaz-Balart at the beginning of the ad. “You chose to take their money... you’re not worthy of service... you need to be fired.”
Diaz-Balart has accepted more direct campaign contributions from the NRA than any other member of Congress from Florida over the last 20 years, including a $1,000 donation after the shooting in May 2018. His continued support from the NRA comes as other Republican members of Congress from South Florida like Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast have distanced themselves from the nation's largest gun lobby.
Barzee Flores' campaign manager Sam Miller said the ad will run on digital platforms for now, but could end up on TV later in the campaign.
Guttenberg has traveled around the country and lobbied dozens of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to change the nation's gun laws since the Valentine's Day shooting.
"I will be working everyday to support Mary Barzee Flores for Congress," Guttenberg said after lauding her judicial background.
Diaz-Balart's Hialeah-based district that stretches across the Everglades is the most conservative of the three Miami-Dade congressional seats currently held by Republicans, though Democrats consider the district competitive after Donald Trump eked out a narrow win over Hillary Clinton there in 2016.
Diaz-Balart hasn't faced a competitive reelection challenge since 2008.
A group of Parkland parents are getting their hands dirty ahead of the 2018 elections.
The Families Versus Assault Rifles PAC, a super PAC organized by Parkland parents who want to oust lawmakers that do not support limiting access to assault weapons, banning bump stocks and limiting magazine size, released a new ad that uses footage from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the day of the shooting and a salvo of gunshots to drum up support for their cause.
The ad, a 30-second digital spot titled "Mass Shootings are NOT Normal" opens with footage of Parkland students being led away from their classrooms during the shooting before the sound of gunshots cuts in. Then, Parkland parents Sergio Rozenblat and Jeff Kasky urge supporters to join and donate to the cause.
"There are certain entities, who are gun lobby entities, who claim certain amounts of membership in the millions of people. There’s one in particular that has 6 million members," Kasky said, referring to the National Rifle Association. "That means there’s 344 million Americans who are not members of your organization. But we also want to be able to say these are the Americans who disagree with your message. You’ve got your 6 million we’ve got our 344 million."
Kasky started the super PAC shortly after the mass shooting on Valentine's Day and his son Cameron became one of the most visible student leaders in the March for Our Lives effort. The elder Kasky's goal is simple: raise money to fund ad campaigns against lawmakers who don't agree with their agenda.
Kasky said the group isn't publicly announcing which races around the country will be a part of their effort until after primaries conclude nationwide in a few weeks, though he said the U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson along with the race for the open Florida governor's seat are on his radar personally.
"When we find a candidate who disagrees with us then he or she will be in our crosshairs," Kasky said. "Then, we’ll take a look and see if the investment will be productive."
The group's process is simple, Kasky said. Candidates or lawmakers are asked about their positions on banning bump stocks, limiting magazine sizes and if they support severely restricting assault weapons. If a candidate answers yes to all three, the group moves on. If not, the group will decide if the candidate is worth attacking during election season.
"We’re looking at each race as a possible investment, if we look at a race and it looks like we can make a difference and it's close enough," Kasky said. "We know our opponents are very well-funded and that’s why were in this fundraising mode. Say our guy is 25 points behind in a traditionally conservative gun-friendly area, we’re not going to look at it, its a waste of our money."
So far, the PAC has raised about $200,000 according to federal filings that were due at the end of June. If the group wants to compete with some of the nation's biggest super PACs who can swoop in with TV ads during the final weeks of a campaign it will need to raise millions of dollars.
"It almost goes against every fiber of my being, I’m a professional mediator," Kasky said of the group's negative approach. "I’m a lover not a fighter, but the other side has made it very clear that this is the way they do things. We’re going to have to get a little dirty."