NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year on a new group that will mix campaign contributions with field operations aimed at pulling 1 million gun-control supporters to the polls, he announced Wednesday, adding a new dimension to his long-running fight for tighter firearms regulation.
The new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, plans to mobilize voters to back candidates and ballot measures supporting such causes as enhancing background checks for gun buyers, according to a news release. The group also plans to issue candidate questionnaires and scorecards and form a political action committee.
"This new organization will bring more people into the fight against gun violence, which affects every town in America," Bloomberg said in a statement. The group will look closely at 15 states, including pro-gun states such as Texas, and other states where gun control initiatives have advanced.
The National Rifle Association had no immediate comment Wednesday but said it would respond at its annual meeting next week in Indianapolis.
The billionaire Bloomberg has used a combination of his wealth and his stature as the 12-year mayor of the nation's biggest city to become perhaps the country's most formidable gun-control activist.
It's a cause he cast in dramatic terms in an interview published Tuesday night on The New York Times' website. Citing his work on gun safety, obesity and curbing smoking, he told the paper — with a smile: "If there is a God, when I get to heaven I'm not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It's not even close."
During his mayoral tenure, which ended last year, Bloomberg's administration set up gun-buying stings in other states to highlight what it said were illegal sales. He and former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which spread its message through such means as a $12 million ad campaign last year; the group is now part of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg made nearly $14 million in federal campaign contributions for gun-control candidates in the 2012 elections alone. His super PAC spent more than $2 million in a 2013 Democratic primary in a special congressional election in Chicago, where his favored candidate got the seat.
Bloomberg's efforts sometimes spurred criticism that the New Yorker was butting into other people's politics, and gun-rights groups have portrayed him as overreaching and out of touch with the views of millions of gun owners.
On hearing of Bloomberg's new initiative, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, told the Times: "He's got the money to waste. So I guess he's free to do so."
Pratt didn't immediately return a call Wednesday.
In a major setback for gun-control advocates, President Barack Obama's plan for broader background checks and proposals for a ban on military-style assault rifles and limits on ammunition capacity failed last year in Congress.
An Associated Press-GfK poll in December found 52 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws, 31 percent wanted them left as they are and 15 percent said they should be loosened.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.