How does NRA spending compare to other US lobbies? I often see the NRA portrayed as the most rich and powerful lobby in Washington, but I don't recall seeing any evidence to back this up.
According to Politifact, the NRA's claim of a minor amount of money spent during the 2017 elections was minor (comparatively). But the graph they produce show a clear trend of them looking at elections as a two year cycle, and 2017 happened to be their off year. In 2016 they reportedly spent $55 million, when some sources claimed it could have been high as $70 million, which would place them in the #2 spot only behind the US Chamber of Commerce (#3 if $55 million is more true, behind National Association of Realtors)✝. They have a much smaller amount of recurring yearly expenses that is mostly listed under the category of "Lobbying expenses", but their major source of spending in recent years goes to Outside spending/Independent campaign expenditures. Those expenditures are likely in the form of ad buys in targeted campaigns that are uncoordinated with an actual candidate's campaign (because that would be illegal).
This makes sense from the perspective of the NRA, since their overarching goal is resisting gun control legislation. The House of Representatives is re-elected every 2 years, so members are constantly campaigning and probably represents to the NRA the cheapest avenue for maintaining enough control to either (a) have enough influence to not even bring new gun control legislation for a vote, or (b) at least have enough influence to de-rail any negotiations on new gun control legislation either internally or through the media. Senators only have to stand for re-election every 6 years, so they have a chance to make other friends to take money from. From the NRA's perspective they're a bit more slippery to hold on to.
There's another possibility, and that's that the members of the NRA have a point and want to make sure that they are heard. The NRA at least used to be an organization about gun safety and training, which (in my opinion) is exactly the kind of organization we need to be spending money to solve the problem. Their rhetoric at the recent Conservative Political Action Conferance and the amount of response it has generated doesn't lead me to believe they will redirect those funds to less political purposes for the 2018 election cycle, and I would expect their total expenses for this election to be far greater than what was spent in 2017.
None of this spending counts any legal cases backed by the NRA, which is also a non-negligible amount of (arguably) political spending. It was estimated by one NRA spokesperson of them having around a $300 million annual budget for legal issues in 2014.
✝ The relative rankings I came up with is an apples to oranges comparison because I am including outside expenditures of the NRA but not any of the others on that list, but I include it just to keep a sense of the scale of the spending.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the National Rifle Association or NRA in 2017 spent $5,122,000. This was not enough for it to make the list of the twenty top spenders, which required a minimum of $12,385,000 in 2017.
The NRA is generally considered powerful not because of how much money it gives but by how many people vote with them. The NRA is a powerful political force — but not because of its money.