This Valley congressman took money from a pro-gun group. Students ask him to give it back

In the wake of the most recent mass shootings, young people with March for Our Lives Fresno on Monday sent Rep. Jim Costa a letter asking him to return a campaign donation from a pro-gun group and instead donate to an organization working to end gun violence.

Whether the Democratic congressman will return the money remains unclear.

In the last three years, Costa received $6,000 from Safari Club International, an Arizona-based organization fighting for the freedom to hunt and animal conservation. Most recently, Costa’s campaign received $2,000 from Safari International in April.

Costa is one of only a handful of California Democrats to receive donations from Safari Club. In the past, Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and former Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Joe Baca received donations from the group. Costa is the only California Democrat to receive money from the group in 2019. Safari Club has given to many Republicans representing California in Congress.

March for Our Lives Fresno, founded by 22-year-old college student Yasmin Mendoza, asked in the letter that Costa return the money. Mendoza founded the group in response to the 2018 Parkland shooting that left 17 students and staff members dead and 17 others wounded.

“Our concern is not with (Safari Club’s) mission, but its intimate connection with the National Rifle Association,” the letter said.

The Safari Club’s president, Paul Babaz, was appointed to the NRA board in 2018 but lost his re-election bid this year.

The letter called Costa’s acceptance of the donation “unsettling.”

“With a donation that large, March for Our Lives Fresno is deeply concerned that such acceptance would be opening the door for Safari Club International, and their agenda that all too coincidentally aligns with the NRA’s, to ensure their self-interest in a district that is afflicted with gun violence,” the letter said.

The letter did acknowledge Costa’s support for gun control measures.

Costa in a statement referred to his track record on gun control and standing up for victims of gun violence. The statement did not say whether Costa’s campaign intends to return the Safari Club donation or support another group working to end gun violence.

“During my time in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., I have supported common sense gun control legislation and been an outspoken advocate against gun violence,” he said. “…My record has remained consistent in Washington, D.C.”

Costa denounced the most recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, condemned racism and called for action on gun violence. He called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to immediately bring to a vote legislation on background checks for prospective gun owners passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year.

In 2018 Costa supported the STOP School Violence Act and in 2017 voted against the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.

Mendoza said Costa and his team need to keep better tabs on the money coming in to his campaign.

“We just want to ask him to do his homework better,” she said. “It’s great to keep denouncing and supporting legislation if it’s behind the scenes. But to take money from groups linked to the NRA, at the end of the day, that says a lot. … You’re either going to come of age with us or get out of the way.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.