An audio clip obtained by the Daily Beast — purportedly of Montana Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale and an NRA lobbyist — could potentially spark a significant investigation.

In the short clip, Rosendale is heard at an event in Washington, DC in July discussing the details of a conversation he had with Chris Cox, who is the chief political strategist for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) — the group’s chief lobbying arm. Rosendale hinted that Cox personally told him that the group would be spending money to help his campaign — a potential violation of federal campaign finance law.

“I fully expect the NRA is going to come in… in August sometime,” Rosendale said after someone at the event asked him about outside groups spending money in the race. “The Supreme Court confirmations are big. That’s what sent the NRA over the line. Because in ’12, with [Republican Senate candidate Denny Rehberg] they stayed out, they stayed out of Montana. But Chris Cox told me, he’s like, ‘We’re going to be in this race.’ ”

Campaign finance records show that in early September, NRA-ILA spent more than $383,000 on ads opposing Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana), whom Rosendale is trying to defeat in November.

Current federal campaign finance law has specific rules on “coordinated communications” between candidates for federal office and outside groups spending money in elections. Such a coordination is considered an in-kind contribution to the campaign, and must be disclosed to the public with a disclaimer that the candidate benefiting from the spending authorized the contribution.

Judith Ingram, a spokesperson for the Federal Elections Commission, told Grit Post that in order for a potential coordinated communication to be labeled as such, it has to meet a three-prong test: A source of payment (payment prong), subject matter of the communication (content prong), and a documented interaction between the person paying for the communication and the candidate or PAC the communication is benefiting (conduct prong). While Miller wouldn’t comment on the Rosendale audio, the clip suggests that all three prongs are present.

Grit Post’s calls and emails to the Rosendale campaign have not yet been returned as of this writing.

Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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