Dauphin County approves $110K for NRA in contentious vote

Gun Rights

Dauphin County will give the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a former county commissioner a total of $110,000 toward the Great American Outdoor Show, which the gun rights advocacy group hosts annually in Harrisburg.

The Dauphin County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday voted 2-1 to approve the payment. Commissioners George Hartwick (D) and Mike Pries (R) supported the move, noting that the event generates tens of millions of dollars for hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the region.

Commissioner Justin Douglas (D) voted against it, saying he “has deep moral issues” with the county giving tax dollars to a lobby group.

“If it was the Bass Pro Shops outdoor show, it would still have the same impact on those businesses,” Douglas said. “And it would not be a lobbying agency that we’re giving money to.”

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The Great American Outdoor Show, which is hosted at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center, calls itself “the world’s largest outdoor show” and features over 1,000 exhibitors of guns, fishing boats, archery and more, according to its website.

The NRA donated $29 million to political campaigns in 2020, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks campaign finances and political spending. The group has also used the Great American Outdoor Show as a political forum: Former President Donald Trump spoke at the event in February, telling the audience he predicted he will win Pennsylvania in the 2024 presidential election. On May 18, the NRA publicly endorsed Trump.

The group has also recently come under fire for alleged corruption. In February, a New York court found former NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, who resigned in January, and two other executives guilty of misspending millions of dollars.

Of the money the county commissioners approved, $50,000 will go to the NRA and $60,000 will go to former Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste, who acts as a liaison to the show.

The county has paid Haste a total of $180,000 for that service over the past three years, paid in installments of $5,000 per month, said George Connor, executive director of the Dauphin County Department of Community and Economic Development, during the meeting.

Connor also confirmed that the county has given a total of over $700,000 to the NRA for hosting the show in the past, but said the money was paid directly to the venue for parking expenses.

While Hartwick voted in favor of the payments, he noted the complicated politics of funding the group.

“We all are in a position where quite frankly, gun violence is having a significant impact on this city and a significant challenge to families and people that are here,” he said, but added that the revenue the show brings in is essential to local businesses who are already struggling.

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