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President Donald Trump at the 2018 NRA convention in Dallas. [AP/Susan Walsh]

Lawsuit Targets FEC’s Failure to Act on NRA Campaign Finance Complaints

A campaign finance watchdog and gun safety group are suing the Federal Election Commission for its failure to act on multiple complaints alleging that the National Rifle Association unlawfully coordinated with political candidates over several election cycles, as first reported by The Trace.

The lawsuit, filed on April 24 by The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that monitors campaign spending, and Giffords, a gun violence prevention group, accuses the FEC of ignoring four separate complaints detailing the gun rights organization’s alleged use of shell corporations to support seven candidates for federal office, including President Donald Trump.

“We’re asking a court to tell the agency to take action to uphold the law,” Brendan Fischer, the CLC’s director, told The Trace. “The NRA has engaged in this covert scheme over the last three election cycles, and it’s vital the FEC do its job so these illicit schemes don’t continue through 2020.”

Fischer added,“It was The Trace’s reporting that first uncovered the NRA’s use of shell corporations to unlawfully coordinate with candidates.”

The complaints and lawsuit draw on facts unearthed by staff writer Mike Spies’s ongoing investigation into the NRA’s election spending. First, Spies detailed how the NRA and congressional candidates used the same consultants to purchase campaign advertising, a violation of federal law.

Later, Spies’s reporting showed that the gun rights organization and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign at times employed the same vendors to develop and execute their advertising strategies.

It is a violation of federal law for outside groups to coordinate with campaigns. As a result, the lawsuit alleges, the NRA made “millions of dollars of illegal, unreported, and excessive in-kind contributions, including up to $25 million in illegal contributions to now President Donald J. Trump.”

The Trace’s reporting identified similar arrangements between the NRA and seven Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. In 2014, those candidates included Thom Tillis, in North Carolina; Cory Gardner, in Colorado; and Tom Cotton, in Arkansas. Two years later, the arrangement occurred in Wisconsin, with Senator Ron Johnson. And in 2018,  with Josh Hawley in Missouri; Matt Rosendale in Montana, and Richard Burr in North Carolina.

The CLC and Giffords aren’t the only ones demanding the FEC to scrutinize the NRA’s campaign finance dealings. In October, nine senators called on the agency to “open an investigation into a potential campaign finance violation.” And when presented with Spies’s original findings, two former FEC chairs — a Democrat and a Republican — independently offered the same response: “The FEC should investigate.”

Read the lawsuit in full: