Democrats hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2018 are taking aim at the financial backing the Maine Republican has received from the National Rifle Association.

Their criticism follows publication of a chart this week in The New York Times that shows Poliquin has received more NRA campaign money over the course of his political career than all but seven other sitting House members.

Poliquin, in his second term as Maine’s 2nd District representative, has taken in $201,398 from the NRA since taking office, according to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Overall, Poliquin has raised more than $6.5 million for his congressional contests from sources that include individual donations and political action committee funds, according to the Federal Election Commission. He’s been involved in two of the most expensive House contests in the country.

Maine Democratic Party leader Phil Bartlett said his party understands “that responsible gun ownership is an important part of the fabric of many of our communities. We also recognize that current laws are not enough to stop the epidemic of gun violence in our country – it’s time for a meaningful conversation about common-sense gun reform.”

“But with Republican lawmakers like Bruce Poliquin in the NRA’s pocket, that conversation is impossible to have, and people will continue to die violently and needlessly,” Bartlett said.

The NRA twice endorsed Poliquin’s election for the rural, gun-friendly district that encompasses northern, central and western Maine.

Brent Littlefield, a political consultant for Poliquin, pointed out Thursday that “Maine has a long tradition of responsible, safe and legal firearm ownership going back generations.”

He said that Poliquin “supports Maine’s outdoor heritage including hunting and has always defended our constitutional 2nd Amendment rights.”

Democrat Lucas St. Clair, who announced this week that he will run for Poliquin’s seat, said that in addition to the gun lobby, Poliquin “has taken almost $700,000 from the special interests – including big banks, credit card companies and insurance companies – and more than $500,000 from Republican Party bosses.”

“Whether it’s standing in the way of common-sense gun reform or trying to take health insurance from 110,000 Mainers, Poliquin is bought and paid for by special interests,” St. Clair said. “He does a great job representing Wall Street and party leaders, but he’s failed when it comes to Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.”

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said St. Claire’s allegations are “absolutely not true.”

Savage said Poliquin “actually took on Wall Street by ending bank bailouts and during his time as state treasurer, took on Wall Street by ending the wining and dining for taxpayer contracts that had been occurring for a long while.”

Another of the Democrats vying to replace Poliquin, Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, says he is a gun owner who understands “the appropriate use of firearms.”

But, he said in an emailed statement, “I also support common-sense regulations that safeguard our citizens.”

Fulford said he “will not accept dark money or corporate lobbyist funding and be dictated by them.” He said his focus will be on representing the 2nd District and promised he won’t be “in hock to those representing corporate interests that are not the people’s interests.”

Craig Olson of Isleboro, also running as a Democrat, said he finds it troubling that Poliquin “has amassed such a large campaign fund” from the NRA.

“This level of contribution from the organization that wants no discussion at all about reasonable gun laws that protect innocent bystanders as well as gun owners demonstrates the fact that Mr. Poliquin’s voice will not be heard in a reasonable, substantive debate about guns and reasonable gun laws that satisfy the general public and sportsmen and sportswomen,” Olson said.

He said Mainers have the right to know from Poliquin “the logic behind allowing bump stocks, high-capacity magazines, silencers, and specialty ammunition that is not being used for sporting purposes but to kill innocent children, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers.”

“Unless we hear otherwise, we can assume that Mr. Poliquin will do only that which his highest funding sources ask of him and that he will not have an independent voice in the matter,” Olson said.

“This is exactly the problem with our system,” said Democratic contender Tim Rich of Bar Harbor, who said he supports the 2nd Amendment but believes “we obviously need better gun violence prevention. There are common-sense solutions we all can support.”

“I promise not to take a dime from the NRA,” Rich said.

In addition to Poliquin, the other top NRA recipients in the House were Reps. French Hill of Arkansas, Ken Buck of Colorado, David Young of Iowa, Mike Simpson of Idaho, Greg Gianforte of Montana, Don Young of Alaska, Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania, Pete Sessions of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia. All are Republicans.

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