SEVERE WX : Fire Weather Watch View Alerts
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Group sues Federal Election Commission over allegation NRA broke campaign-finance law

A gun-safety group is suing the F...

Posted: Apr 25, 2019 3:43 AM
Updated: Apr 25, 2019 3:47 AM

A gun-safety group is suing the Federal Election Commission for failing to act on its complaints claiming a pattern of the National Rifle Association improperly coordinating its political spending with Donald Trump and other Republican candidates in recent elections.

The lawsuit, while focused on forcing the Federal Election Commission's hand on a technical timing issue, seeks to put a spotlight on a broader question: the NRA's role in recent elections and whether the powerful gun lobby skirted contribution limits to provide an unfair advantage to Trump and other candidates it backed. The NRA denies any wrongdoing.

Giffords, a gun-control group run by former Arizona congresswoman and gun-violence survivor Gabby Giffords, and the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center Action contend in the suit that the FEC has missed a 120-day deadline to act on four complaints brought by the groups.

The lawsuit, provided first to CNN, asks a federal judge to intervene and prod the agency to move ahead with investigations.

The court filing precedes Trump's address Friday to the NRA's annual convention in Indianapolis.

Improper coordination?

A political action committee cannot donate more than $5,000 to a candidate in a single year and an individual was barred in 2016 from giving more than $2,700 to a candidate for the primary or general election. But federal law allows individuals, corporations and unions to spend any amount with outside groups, such as the NRA's political arm, to influence candidate elections -- provided they do not coordinate their spending operations with the candidates they support.

The lawsuit and underlying complaints allege that as much as $35 million that the NRA spent to support several GOP candidates over three election cycles amounted to illegal donations because the NRA's ads were placed by consulting firms that also were handling ads for Republican candidates supported by the powerful gun-rights lobby.

The NRA engaged in a "complicated scheme to coordinate its spending" with candidates "while taking steps to conceal its coordination," the lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, alleges.

"We scrupulously follow the law," NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in a statement to CNN. "This latest effort by Giffords and the Campaign Legal Center is a frivolous lawsuit based on a frivolous complaint."

Federal Election Commission officials declined comment, saying it is against agency policy to comment on pending litigation. The Trump campaign also declined to comment.

The NRA spent more than any other independent outside group to back Trump's campaign, pumping in more than $30 million to boost him and attack his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2016, according to a tally by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

But its spending on Trump's behalf has faced intense scrutiny.

The disclosures that television stations file with the Federal Communications Commission show that four individuals who placed pro-Trump ads for the NRA's political arm also placed ads for Trump's presidential campaign, the lawsuit said.

The individuals worked for either Red Eagle Media, which placed NRA-related ads, or American Media & Advocacy Group, which handled the Trump campaign's ads. Both firms share an Alexandria, Virginia, address and are affiliated with a third company, National Media Research, Planning and Placement, according to the lawsuit.

Trevor Potter, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission and the Campaign Legal Center's president, said that if the NRA's media buyers coordinated their strategy with candidates' campaigns, that would amount to excessive in-kind campaign contributions. The legal center is working as a counsel in the case, alongside Giffords' lawyers.

It's not unheard-of for a single vendor to handle the advertising for both an outside group and a candidate. But to avoid running afoul of federal regulations, companies erect "firewalls" to prevent information flowing between a candidate and the outside group.

Officials with the parent company National Media declined to comment on the record about the complaints and lawsuit.

The FEC will have to determine whether having the same people sign media-buying forms for the candidates and the NRA amounted to a breach of the firewall, experts say.

Signing a media-buying form can represent a "ministerial task rather than a strategic function," said Charlie Spies, a veteran Republican campaign-finance lawyer in Washington. "Having the same person on the forms is an optics issue, but not necessarily a legal issue."

The lawsuit and complaints cite reporting from several media outlets -- including Mother Jones and The Trace, a digital news operation that receives some of its funding from gun-control groups.

The scrutiny about the alleged violation of coordination rules has extended to Capitol Hill, where two Democrats, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, penned a letter earlier this year to the NRA, demanding more information about the arrangement.

Deadlocked agency

Initiating an FEC investigation -- or any significant action at the agency -- requires four FEC commissioners to vote to approve the move. The six-member body has two vacancies, and the remaining commissioners often can't agree on enforcement actions.

Partisan gridlock has been building for years and resulted in the agency deadlocking on nearly a third of its major cases in 2016 -- up significantly from a decade earlier, according to an analysis by a former FEC chairwoman, Ann Ravel. At the end of 2018, the agency had 329 pending cases, including several related to possible violations that occurred during the 2016 election, according to Ellen Weintraub, the commission's current chairwoman. That's up from 100 open cases in 2010, she said.

Increasingly, groups focused on greater regulation of money in elections are pursuing action in court to force the agency's hand. By filing a lawsuit over the delay, Giffords and the Campaign Legal Center want a federal judge to demand that the FEC explain how it is handling the investigation, if at all, and provide regular updates.

Weintraub, a Democrat, has expressed dismay with the gridlock and announced plans earlier this year to take a dramatic step: She won't allow the FEC's lawyers to defend the agency when it is sued for not enforcing the law.

Given the four-vote requirement for agency action, her no "vote" serves as a veto on any effort to initiate a legal defense.

In an interview with CNN, Weintraub said she could not comment on the lawsuit focused on the NRA but that she is not necessarily opposed to extending her refusal to defend the agency to cases involving lengthy delays in agency action.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 21010

Reported Deaths: 355
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah484994
Washington304725
Marion288370
Umatilla225128
Clackamas152340
Malheur76814
Deschutes59610
Lane5793
Jackson4612
Yamhill45013
Lincoln4149
Union3942
Jefferson3554
Morrow3543
Polk31312
Linn27710
Klamath2012
Wasco1893
Hood River1840
Benton1696
Douglas1501
Josephine1142
Columbia940
Coos910
Clatsop850
Crook471
Baker380
Tillamook340
Lake320
Wallowa191
Sherman160
Curry150
Harney100
Gilliam40
Grant40
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 554388

Reported Deaths: 10307
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2067784967
Riverside40452799
Orange39076720
San Bernardino35452502
San Diego31779586
Kern22626171
Fresno17031171
Alameda13213208
San Joaquin12303211
Santa Clara11475203
Sacramento10795161
Tulare10475196
Imperial9693244
Stanislaus9566161
Contra Costa9022138
Ventura814689
San Francisco743267
Santa Barbara670469
San Mateo6110120
Marin528779
Monterey521235
Merced501264
Kings445356
Solano402940
Sonoma343147
Madera230239
Placer218620
San Luis Obispo209315
Yolo169043
Santa Cruz12386
Butte10958
Napa104610
Sutter9217
El Dorado7291
San Benito7094
Lassen6380
Yuba5884
Shasta41810
Mendocino38010
Colusa3624
Glenn3603
Nevada3221
Humboldt2824
Tehama2761
Lake2202
Amador1642
Mono1531
Tuolumne1522
Calaveras1471
Del Norte990
Siskiyou930
Inyo643
Mariposa602
Plumas340
Modoc50
Trinity50
Sierra30
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Medford
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 90°
Brookings
Clear
89° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 89°
Crater Lake
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 87°
Grants Pass
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 84°
Klamath Falls
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 87°
Early week high heat
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events