Matthew Lacombe is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University where he studies American politics. His research is broadly focused on understanding and explaining political power in the U.S. His dissertation uses the case of the National Rifle Association to identify and explain a previously underappreciated source of interest group power. In addition to his dissertation, he is the co-author of Billionaires and Stealth Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 2018), a book that details the political preferences and behavior of U.S. billionaires. Lacombe received his B.A. in political science from Allegheny College and an M.A in political science from Northwestern University.
Beyond Money: The National Rifle Association and Interest Group Power
Matthew Lacombe’s dissertation, “Beyond Money: The National Rifle Association and Interest Group Power,” identifies and explains a previously overlooked source of interest group power through a close analysis of the National Rifle Association (NRA). By many accounts, the NRA is very successful at advancing its policy agenda: Firearm regulations in the U.S. remain very weak despite internationally exceptional rates of gun violence and strong, long-standing public support for stricter rules on gun ownership and use. Yet the source of this prominent interest group’s political power remains something of a mystery, as it does not fit well with existing scholarship on interest group influence, which mostly focuses on how groups use financial resources to influence politics through private, behind-the-scenes channels. Instead, I argue that the NRA’s influence stems from the political behavior of its members, who - as a result of the NRA’s assiduous, long-term efforts - are extremely dedicated to the gun rights cause. More specifically, I argue that the NRA has used ideational resources to influence politics through mass channels of influence - that it influences politics through the creation and dissemination of ideas, identities, and rhetorical frames that structure the environment in which policy is created, debated, and enacted. Using diverse methods to analyze 79 years of original archival data, I demonstrate that the NRA has cultivated a politicized group social identity and a gun-centric political ideology, which, together, have enabled it to shape the gun regulation debate in ways that systematically advantage its interests.