Gun-Violence Group Says NRA Made Illegal Donations to Trump

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, speaks on Oct. 4, 2017, about gun safety on the House steps after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Accusing the NRA of campaign-finance violations ahead of its annual convention, a nonprofit founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords brought a federal complaint Wednesday night to compel regulatory action.

The Giffords Law Center, which advocates for tougher gun laws, brought the suit in Washington, saying that four complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission about the NRA are gathering dust.

Since July 2018, the Giffords group says it and the Campaign Legal Center have detailed millions in illegal campaign contributions that the NRA funneled to at least seven federal candidates, including $25 million to the 2016 campaign of future President Donald Trump.

To commit “campaign finance violations of dramatic scale,” according to the 21-page complaint, the gun lobby used “a complex network of shell corporations.”

The contributions to the Trump campaign alone exceed the congressional limit by 9,259 times, the complaint says.

Distinguishing the NRA’s activity from independent political spending, which the Supreme Court has found poses less risk of corruption than direct contributions, the Giffords group says the NRA’s donations were coordinated with the candidates, putting them in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act’s spending limits.

“While the NRA has held itself out as independent of the campaigns and candidates it supports, in fact it has been anything but,” the complaint says. “The organization has engaged in a complicated scheme to coordinate its spending with those same candidates, while taking steps to conceal its coordination.”

Adam Skaggs, chief counsel Giffords Law Center, said regulators “turned a blind eye” to the NRA.

“The FEC is supposed to be the nation’s election watchdog, but in this case it didn’t bite, bark or even whimper,” Skaggs said in a statement.

Representatives for the National Rifle Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

Campaign Legal Center attorney Adav Noti, who filed the complaint, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The Giffords Law Center asks that the Federal Election Commission be compelled to act on the administrative complaints against the NRA and investigate its contributions.

In addition to Trump, the complaint says the NRA’s spending benefitted Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Cory Gardner of Colorado, as well as 2018 Senate candidate Matt Rosendale of Montana.

Giffords has become a leading figure of the anti-gun violence in recent years, creating the Giffords Law Center after she survived a 2011 shooting while meeting with constituents in her district in Tucson, Arizona. Six people died, including 9-year-old Christina Taylor and Chief U.S. District Judge John Roll, and 18 were injured.

Federal campaign finance law sets a $5,000 spending limit for multicandidate political action committees. That amount drops to $2,800 for PACs supporting an individual candidate.

Provided there is no coordination with the candidates themselves, those limits don’t apply, however, when a PAC donates to outside groups on a candidate’s behalf.

According to Wednesday’s complaint, the NRA skirted the law by having the same vendors handling the candidates’ ads place its own ads supporting them as well.

Since 2014, the lawsuit alleges, the NRA used this scheme to hide up to $35 million in advertising expenditures that were coordinated with the federal candidates.

NRA members will gather Thursday in Indianapolis for the group’s annual meeting, where President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are scheduled to speak Friday. 

On Wednesday, the group sued Los Angeles over a law that requires contractors to disclose ties to the organization.

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