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Watchdog Groups File FEC Complaint Over NRA Coordination With Trump Campaign

Following reporting by The Trace, the Campaign Legal Center and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed a complaint on Friday with the Federal Election Commission calling for an investigation into the National Rifle Association’s apparently illegal coordination with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

The Trace investigation, which was published in partnership with Mother Jones, reviewed more than 1,000 pages of documents from the FEC and the Federal Communications Commission, and found evidence that the gun group and the Trump campaign employed the same operation — at times, the exact same people — to craft and execute their advertising strategies for the 2016 election. In some cases, the ads placed by Red Eagle Media, a firm hired by the NRA, and American Media & Advocacy Group, a firm hired by the Trump campaign, were mirror images of each other, and slated to run during the same TV shows.

That’s because they were authorized by the same person: Jon Ferrell, the chief financial officer of a major conservative media consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement, which is closely connected to both Red Eagle Media and American Media & Advocacy Group. In fact, the firms are so intertwined that experts — including a former FEC chair — told The Trace that the arrangement is a glaring violation of campaign finance laws.

The Trace identified a total of four current or former National Media employees who are named in FCC filings as representing both the Trump campaign and the NRA during the final stretch of the 2016 election.

The report prompted Campaign Legal Center, an election watchdog, and Giffords Law Center, the legal arm of Gabby Giffords’s gun reform group, to file the complaint on Friday. “If the same people buying ads for the Trump campaign are also placing the NRA’s pro-Trump ads, then the NRA’s spending is not at all independent,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at Campaign Legal Center, in a statement. The CLC previously filed two FEC complaints against the NRA in the fall after The Trace reported that the gun group appeared to be funneling much of its 2018 election spending through a possible shell company that’s identical to a firm used by GOP Senate candidates.

“The NRA and Trump campaign might claim that their media buyers established firewalls,” Fischer said, referring to the agreements campaign vendors employ to comply with laws against sharing information. “But it is impossible for an employee to create a firewall in his or her brain.”