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Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA

The gun control group Giffords filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association (NRA) on Tuesday, alleging the advocacy group violated campaign finance laws by illegally contributing tens of millions of dollars to GOP Senate and presidential candidates.

The lawsuit — which was filed by the nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog Campaign Legal Center on behalf of Giffords — alleges that the NRA funneled up to $35 million in illicit contributions to GOP candidates through a number of shell corporations.

The group, which was founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), alleges that the NRA made illegal contributions to candidates running in elections in 2014, 2016 and 2018, in addition to former President Trump’s 2016 bid.

“Over the past seven years, the National Rifle Association has engaged in an ongoing scheme to evade campaign finance regulations by using a series of shell corporations to illegally but surreptitiously coordinate advertising with at least seven candidates for federal office,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit is specifically alleging that the consulting firm hired by the NRA to create its ads, called Starboard, was “functionally indistinguishable” from the consulting firm OnMessage, which was brought on to work for the campaigns of now-Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.).

Giffords named a number of other campaigns in the lawsuit: Sen. Thom Tillis’ (R-N.C.) 2014 campaign, Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) 2014 campaign, former Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) 2014 campaign, Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wisc.) 2016 campaign and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The Hill has reached out to the lawmakers or campaigns named in the lawsuit for comment.

The complaint said the two groups have the same leadership, are located at the same address and have no internal separation or firewall between employees who work at the two entities.

The two firms then brought on Red Eagle Media and American Media & Advocacy, also known as National Media, to handle ad placement and strategy, the lawsuit claims. Trump’s 2016 campaign also recruited American Media & Advocacy Group.

According to the complaint, a number of employees at the consulting firms alternated between the Trump campaign and the NRA, executing advertisements for the both of them, in the time before the 2016 election.

“Taken together, the Starboard and National Media schemes represent a continuous and ongoing pattern in practice by” NRA subsidiaries “to illegally coordinate advertising spending with candidates for federal office through a common vendor and to shield their illegal acts from federal regulators through the use of shell corporations,” the complaint says.

Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s managing director for public affairs, told The Hill in a statement that Giffords’ lawsuit against the agency is “misguided as it is transparent.”

“Another premeditated abuse of the public by our adversaries — who will stop at nothing in their pursuit of their anti-freedom agenda,” Arulanandam said.

“This latest action is as misguided as it is transparent. Suffice it to say, the NRA has full confidence in its political activities and remains eager to set the record straight,” he added.

David Pucino, a senior staff attorney at Giffords Law Center, said the gun control group is taking legal action against the NRA “to finally hold them accountable for actions that corrupted politicians and undermined our democracy.”

“The NRA has long acted like it is above the law, and it has done so flagrantly in the last several election cycles. This lawsuit demonstrates that the NRA broke the law by illegally coordinating with federal campaigns and funneling millions of dollars to candidates who supported their extremist, deadly agenda,” Pucino added in a statement.

Giffords filed a number of complaints in 2018 to claim to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that the NRA was participating in an illicit plot that breached federal election laws.

The gun control group then filed a lawsuit against the FEC when it did not respond to the complaints.

The U.S. District Court in Washington issued an order on Sept. 30 that directed the FEC to respond to the complaints within 30 days. Then the commission failed to act and time expired, the court determined that the gun control group was allowed to file a lawsuit against the NRA for violating campaign finance law.

The lawsuit is now seeking an order that would prevent the NRA from breaching laws in future elections, in addition to a penalty paid to the U.S. treasury that is equal to the amount of money that was illicitly contributed.

— Updated Nov. 3 at 5:40 p.m.

Tags Cory Gardner Donald Trump Josh Hawley Ron Johnson Thom Tillis Tom Cotton

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