Supporters of tighter restrictions on guns are deploying a new tactic: pressing companies such as Wyndham Worldwide Corp. (WYN) and Hertz Global Holdings Inc. (HTZ) to stop giving discounts to members of the National Rifle Association.
Organizations with ties to Moveon.org, an antiwar advocacy group that backed President Barack Obama’s re-election, want to shrink the NRA’s membership by eliminating an incentive to join -- cheaper hotel rooms and car rentals.
That would diminish the gun lobby’s clout as it tries to block congressional legislation in the aftermath of the December shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the advocacy groups reason.
“The NRA takes those members and translates that into power in Washington,” said Kaytee Riek, who is managing the campaign for the New York-based group SumOfUs. “The companies leaving” the discount programs “will pressure the NRA.”
SumOfUs, which has received help from Moveon.org, has garnered more than 70,000 signatures urging companies such as Parsippany, New Jersey-based Wyndham, which also owns the Ramada hotel brand, and Park Ridge, New Jersey-based Hertz to stop its discounts for NRA members.
Cigna Corp. (CI), based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, also was asked to stop underwriting the NRA’s accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy for members.
Logos of several companies, described as “the NRA’s corporate partners,” are displayed on the SumOfUs website. Riek said the group plans to present its petition signatures to all of the companies this week.
Margo Happer, a spokeswoman for Wyndham; Paula Rivera, a Hertz spokeswoman; and Joe Mondy of Cigna declined to comment.
The campaign’s effect on the NRA, which claims more than 4 million members, may be muted because the benefits being spotlighted are widely available elsewhere and aren’t a major reason to sign up with the gun lobby, said Z. John Zhang, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia.
“People join the NRA not because Hertz offers a discount,” Zhang said.
In addition, he said, companies will be loath to cave into pressure from one campaign lest they be barraged by others objecting to some of the groups with which they are partners.
“There’s no good place to stop once you get into that slippery slope,” Zhang said.
Avaaz.org, an advocacy group that claims 19 million members internationally, asked its supporters to post complaints on Wyndham’s Facebook page, saying the hotel chain was “giving political cover to the extremists of the NRA,” according to campaign director Ian Bassin. Those postings later were removed.
New York-based Avaaz counts among its co-founders Moveon.org and former Democratic U.S. Representative Tom Perriello of Virginia, president of the Committee for American Progress Action Fund, whose executive committee includes veterans of the Bill Clinton and Obama presidential administrations.
Bassin said the efforts to pressure companies with links to the NRA mirrored the tactics used to persuade corporations to end their funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council. More than three dozen companies left ALEC following pressure from the New York-based civil rights group ColorofChange.org and other organizations.
ALEC championed voter-identification laws that the U.S. Justice Department said discriminated against minorities. It also backed “stand your ground” self-defense laws such as the one cited by authorities in Sanford, Florida, when they didn’t initially arrest George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense in the killing last year of teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, later charged with second-degree murder, has pleaded not guilty.
Obama has called for a ban on assault-style weapons in addition to expanded background checks and limits on ammunition magazines, in response to the killing of 20 children and six adults at the Newtown school.
In January, Obama took executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence, including encouraging states to share criminal and mental-health records for the background-check database.
The NRA has opposed mandatory background checks for all gun buyers and limits on large-capacity ammunition magazines. The group spent more than $25 million on the 2012 elections and its political action committee contributed almost $1 million directly to candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group in Washington.
A spokesman for the NRA, Andrew Arulanandam, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the effort to eliminate its members’ hotel and car-rental discounts.
Supporters of gun legislation say companies that continue their association with the NRA risk being tainted.
“When companies give their stamps of approval, not only is that a powerful validator for that group, but the company owns it,” Bassin said. “Those companies need to be forewarned that consumers are going to hold them accountable.”
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