Rossi responds to NRA funding, censorship criticism

Congressional hopeful challenged over gun control stance in days following Florida shooting.

Congressional hopeful Dino Rossi (R-Sammamish) is garnering criticism from his potential future constituents over the latest round of gun control debates sparked by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The day after the shooting that killed 17 students and staff members, Congressional District 8 candidate Kim Schrier (D-Issaquah) sent out a press release stating that Rossi, who most recently served as a Washington state senator for the 45th Legislative District, had received over $400,000 in support from the National Rifle Association in his 2010 U.S. Senate race against Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

Schrier called on Rossi to contribute this money “to fund lockdown and active shooter preparedness training in public schools throughout the 8th District” and to “refrain from accepting additional support from the NRA and gun manufacturers.”

However, Rossi’s campaign manager Andrew Bell pointed out that this spending was not a donation from the NRA to Rossi’s campaign, but was an independent expenditure on the part of the NRA. Political action committees are legally limited in what they can directly contribute to federal candidates, but they are free to spend what they like independently, as long as they do not coordinate this spending with the candidate. Coordinating with Rossi would have been “highly illegal,” Bell said.

“A different organization [from Rossi’s campaign] spent that money eight years ago, without consulting him,” Bell stressed. “It didn’t have anything to do with Dino’s Senate campaign.”

He pointed out that in the grand scheme of elections, $400,000 isn’t the biggest amount spent on a single candidate; independent expenditures on a candidate’s behalf can be in the millions, he said.

Rossi further gained ire for his social media policies in the days following the Parkland massacre.

Members of Indivisible WA – District 8 commented on a Winter Olympics-themed post on Rossi’s Facebook wall that was posted on Feb. 15, the day after the atrocity. Because there had been no post mentioning the lives lost in Florida, they asked Rossi if he planned to address the tragedy or make any statements related to gun control.

“I made a comment that it would seem more appropriate that you’d comment on the fact that children were murdered in Florida yesterday,” said Chris Petzold, who founded the District 8 Indivisibles.

Within a day, nearly all of the comments had disappeared. The post currently shows 46 comments; however, clicking on them will only reveal one comment (in support of Rossi) followed by three replies. The gun control-related comments had all been hidden, meaning that the only people who can see them are the people who made the comments and their friends.

This is how the 46 comments appear to someone who did not comment on the post or is not friends with someone who did. Nicole Jennings/staff photo

This is how the 46 comments appear to someone who did not comment on the post or is not friends with someone who did. Nicole Jennings/staff photo

In an email interview with the Reporter, Rossi said that he hides comments not only when they themselves are malicious, but also in the case that they provoke such rhetoric from other Facebook users.

“A few people, mainly from Seattle and other parts of the state not in the 8th Congressional District, started to flood our Facebook feed with hateful comments,” Rossi said. “When comment threads degenerate into pure abuse and name-calling, we hide the entire thread (even if the initiating comment was not itself offensive, but only sparked the offensive comments).”

Petzold, however, is concerned that Rossi’s decision to not only allegedly ignore the comments but to hide them eliminates a crucial pathway of communication between taxpayers and their possible future elected representative.

“How can we talk to you as a potential constituent when you’re hiding my comments?” Petzold said. “We’re looking for where he stands on certain issues and it’s just one-way communication at this point … If we can’t start a discussion there, how do we engage?”

Sammamish resident Linda Bock called Rossi’s actions “poor behavior,” pointing out that even in kindergarten, children learn “to share, that everybody gets a turn, that everybody is valuable.” Why, then, she said, should politicians be exempt from basic life lessons?

“There are so many people who feel with every fiber of their being that we have to do everything we can do to bring back democracy … Silencing and trickery are just really poor tactics and we have to let people know the truth,” Bock said.

Not receiving a response to her comment has made Petzold wonder if Rossi chose to post about the Olympics and not the shooting because of an unwillingness to discuss gun reform.

Rossi told the Reporter that he supports legislation that works toward preventing any future mass shootings, such as increasing mental health resources, enforcing current firearm laws and cracking down on any “technologies that can functionally turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones.”

“I’m willing to listen and talk with anyone who wants to work in good faith to advance solutions to gun violence that are effective and Constitutional,” Rossi said.

In terms of background checks, Rossi believes “Congress should review and update background check policy to make sure guns stay out of the hands of people who are not legally allowed to own them.” He is “waiting to see what gains traction in Congress before weighing in on all of the potential changes.”