Watchdog Requests FEC Investigate NRA and Affiliates for Federal Election Law Violations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 20, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) requesting it investigate whether the National Rifle Association (NRA) violated federal election laws during the 2018 and 2020 elections. Despite public reporting and complaints filed with the FEC about the NRA’s illegal activities in connection with the 2016 election, the organization continued to maintain financial relationships with foreign entities throughout the 2018 and 2020 cycles. This apparently illegal activity, which was also highlighted in a Senate report and the group’s own Form 990, merits an investigation and remedial action from the FEC.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “The NRA has continued to violate campaign finance law by brazenly soliciting foreign contributions in the last three federal election cycles. By failing to enforce the law, the FEC is setting a dangerous precedent, leaving our elections vulnerable to foreign entities eager to influence American politics.”
Two separate credible complaints were filed with the FEC after evidence surfaced that the NRA accepted foreign assistance during the 2016 election cycle. The first alleged that Alexander Torshin, the Russian deputy central banker with ties to Vladimir Putin, funneled money to the NRA to support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign. The second alleged that Donald Trump and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign knowingly used foreign national contributions via the NRA. In both cases, the commissioners split the vote, resulting in no action. Now, however, new information has come to light making it imperative for the FEC to revisit the issue.
In September 2019, the minority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance published a report outlining the depth of the relationship between the NRA and Russia, referring to the NRA as a “foreign asset.” It revealed that the NRA financed a “luxurious” 2015 trip to Moscow – hosted by Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina – during which NRA leaders sought business opportunities. The report found that the NRA leaders maintained relationships with Torshin and Butina, and facilitated their access to Republican and Trump campaign officials.
The NRA also disclosed “spending on foreign fundraising” on its 2018 Form 990. Donors contributing $1 million or more are entered into the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom,” and NRA records and media reports show that gunmakers Glock (Austria), Sig Sauer (Germany), Taurus (Brazil), and Beretta (Italy) are all members. Additionally, former Beretta CEO Ugo Gussalli Beretta pledged $1 million to the NRA on behalf of the company in 2008.
While foreign entities are allowed to donate to the NRA, that money cannot be spent on political expenditures. The NRA, however, regularly transfers funds to its lobbying arm, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), and its federally registered PACs: the NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) and the NRA Victory Fund, Inc. (NRA-VF). In 2019 and 2020, the NRA transferred $15.5 million to the NRA-VF and engaged in other electoral spending efforts, raising important questions about its compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act’s prohibition on campaign contributions by foreign nationals.
The timing of the foreign donations suggest they were particularly focused on influencing the outcome of the 2020 Senate runoff election in Georgia. Two of the foreign gun manufacturers – Sig Sauer and Taurus – agreed to contribute up to $1,000,000 to the NRA-ILA to match contributions made to the organization between September 1, 2020, and November 15, 2020. In the month that followed, the NRA-ILA transferred $1,102,205 to the NRA-VF. Less than a week after those funds were transferred, the NRA-VF spent $1,195,917 on television advertisements opposing the elections of then-Democratic candidates, Senators Jonathan Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “The integrity of American elections is at stake if foreign entities are allowed to continue paying for campaign ads to influence American voters. Despite the slew of revelations about wrongdoing by senior NRA leadership, the NRA continues to act as if it is above the law. This time, the FEC must take swift enforcement action.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.