Three San Luis Obispo County community groups and a Cal Poly student club accepted close to $400,000 in cash and gifts from the National Rifle Association over a six-year period, NRA tax records show.
The Cal Poly Marksmanship Club, San Luis Obispo Sportsman’s Association, Santa Lucia Sportsman’s Association and San Miguel Lion’s Club together accepted $393,877 in both cash and in-kind donations from the NRA from 2010 through 2016, according to NRA Foundation tax data compiled by the Associated Press.
The Foundation is responsible for more than $7.3 million in grants to more than 500 schools across the country during that period, supporting a variety of programs including the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, rifle teams, hunting safety courses and agriculture clubs.
In the wake of the mass shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, last month, companies, schools and nonprofit organizations have faced calls to sever ties with the NRA, which has fought gun-control efforts, including laws to raise the minimum purchasing age, expand background checks and restrict access to assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines.
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According to the AP data, Cal Poly is listed as having accepted $21,918 in NRA grants — $650 in cash and $21,268 in non-cash contributions — in two donations in 2011 and 2016. University spokesman Matt Lazier said the 2011 donation was an in-kind donation of $5,828 worth of rifles to the university’s Military Science/ROTC program for the purpose of establishing a rifle team.
But Lazier said, because the ROTC program doesn’t use live weapons, the rifles were gifted to an off-campus firing range, though he did not know which one. The rifle team was never established, he said.
The 2016 donation included $650 in cash and $15,440 worth of ammunition to the Cal Poly Marksmanship Club.
Lazier did not know whether the university had any role in applying for either donation, but said the school itself did not take the donations.
“The university did not receive or accept such a gift,” he wrote in an email.
The club’s president, Elisabeth Paxson, said in a Facebook message Tuesday that the club received the donations — prior to her involvement in the club — after independently applying as a club. Paxson said it was her understanding the club received the ammunition and the cash donation was used to purchase club T-shirts and more ammo.
She said the club is not currently seeking NRA grants but they haven’t discussed whether they will in the future. She noted that the club is not politically active.
“And we wish to remain that way in order to support an inclusive environment anyone who wants to participate in shooting sports,” Paxson wrote. “Grants such as those, and other shooting sports grants makes it possible for shooting sports enthusiasts (broke college students) to be able to shoot at lower costs”
The San Luis Obispo Sportsman’s Association took the most NRA money of any local group, accepting $275,106 from 2010 through 2017, including $210,475 in cash and $64,631 in non-monetary contributions. The grants were listed as intended for equipment and range development.
The association’s president, Bill Plumber, said Tuesday that the grants go to fund several of the association’s most popular courses and activities.
Of the money received in recent years, Plumber said it’s paid for range upkeep, wheelchair accessibility, Eagle Scout projects, hunter safety classes and pheasant hunts for kids. Plumber also noted funds go to a popular once-a-month introductory firearm safety and shooting course for women, which he said is usually booked about five months in advance.
Plumber said the NRA Foundation prioritizes funding for projects related to gun safety and designed for women and children.
Asked whether the national backlash against the NRA following the Parkland shooting will affect whether the group takes its money in the future, Plumber said no.
“Money is hard to come by,” he said. “You get it where you can.”
The Santa Lucia Sportsman’s Association in Atascadero took $75,881 from the NRA, including $27,629 in cash and $48,252 in non-cash donations, during the period. A spokesperson from the group could not be reached for further information.
The San Miguel Lion’s Club accepted $20,972 during the six-year period, including $15,268 in cash for youth equipment.
Club President Terry Scantlin said the group used to apply for NRA grants but records show they haven’t received any since 2012. Scantlin said the money previously supported the club’s annual Junior Pheasant Hunt.
He said it became too cumbersome for the small organization to continue seeking out the grants, but politics did not play a role in the decision to stop applying.
“We don’t get involved in that,” Scantlin said.
In SLO County politics, one local official and one candidate have financial ties to the NRA. Congressional candidate Justin Fareed, challenging U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, who represents the Central Coast, accepted $2,500 in the 2016 election cycle but said last month he “will not be accepting a donation from the NRA this election cycle.”
Campaign records also show that County Board of Supervisors Chair John Peschong’s campaign committee made a $120 donation to Friends of the NRA, the fundraising arm of the NRA Foundation, in May 2016.