campaign finance

The National Rifle Association (NRA) may have broken federal campaign finance law in the 2014 and 2016 elections, according to a complaint from a campaign finance watchdog.

In a complaint the Campaign Legal Center filed with the Federal Election Commission, the NRA allegedly violated existing federal campaign finance laws in four key U.S. Senate races in 2014 and 2016. Currently, federal law bans candidates campaigning for federal office from coordinating with outside groups, like the NRA. However, the Campaign Legal Center is arguing that the NRA used a shell company to get around coordination laws.

“The NRA using inside information about a candidate’s strategy to create ‘independent’ ads supporting him creates an unfair advantage, and it violates the law,” Brendan Fischer, director of the Campaign Legal Center’s federal reform program, said in a public statement. “According to the Supreme Court, groups like the NRA can only make unlimited expenditures if they are independent of the candidates they support, and it falls to the FEC to enforce the laws that preserve that independence and prevent corruption.”

According to an investigation by The Trace, a vendor named Starboard Strategic Services — which shares offices with a separate firm called OnMessage Inc. — began appearing on the NRA’s campaign finance filings in 2014. Former staff members at Starboard say that they don’t recall OnMessage having any of ther own staff, and that executives at Starboard also claimed roles at OnMessage.

Filings show that the NRA paid Starboard approximately $60 million to influence federal election outcomes since 2014. OnMessage, in the meantime, was listed as a top messaging consultant for the campaigns of Senators Thom TIllis (R-North Carolina), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), all of whom defeated Democratic incumbents to win elections. OnMessage was also listed as a consultant for the successful 2016 re-election campaign of Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin).

The NRA remains one of the biggest spenders in federal elections, having spent $30 million alone on boosting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and more than $100 million in all federal elections in the 2016 cycle. Between 1998 and 2017, the NRA spent more than $200 million.


Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.

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