Gun security group files complaint alleging NRA coordinated with political cabinet with ties to Louisiana

Gun safety organization Giffords sued the National Rifle Association and the campaigns of U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri and U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale of Montana, alleging that the gun rights group used guns front companies to unduly assist Republican lawmakers in 2018.

OnMessage Inc., the political firm that advised Hawley and Rosendale’s campaigns, is partly owned by Timmy Teepell. Teepell is the former chief political advisor to former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and served as his chief of staff during his first term.

Kyle Plotkin, who also served as Jindal’s chief of staff, led Hawley’s campaign in 2018 and now oversees Hawley’s Senate office.

Two NRA affiliates have made up to $ 35 million in illegal campaign contributions – in the form of coordinated communications efforts – to GOP Senate campaigns of Hawley, Rosendale, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, as well as Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to the lawsuit, were filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

The NRA Political Victory Fund, a political action committee, and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action spent millions on allegedly independent political advertising for the six Senate candidates and Trump during the 2014, 2016 and 2018 federal election cycles, according to the pursuit.

The Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan campaign fundraising group, represents Giffords, a gun safety group founded by former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), in part to counter NRA influence in national politics.

Under a 2010 US Supreme Court ruling, outside groups are allowed to spend unlimited sums on political speech, including advertisements in favor of candidates.

But federal campaign finance rules require that such ads be ordered without campaign coordination. Coordinated messages count as an in-kind contribution.

Political Action Committees are subject to a limit of $ 5,000 per cycle on contributions, including in-kind contributions, to a single candidate. Businesses are not allowed to spend treasury funds on coordinated messages on behalf of political candidates.

The lawsuit accuses the NRA and the campaigns of using the same political messaging companies to disguise coordinated campaign activity as independent advertising.

The NRA paid Starboard Strategic Inc., a company based in Virginia and Maryland, for the advertising in favor of the candidates. The contestants also paid for OnMessage, which the lawsuit says is “functionally indistinguishable” from Starboard.

“They are run by the same people and located at the same address, and no separation or internal firewalls exist between the staff who work for each entity,” said the lawsuit. “OnMessage has been nominated and accepted industry awards for [NRA] advertisements contracted via Starboard.

The companies, which the lawsuit alleges are in fact a company operating under two names, then coordinated to create and place complementary ads – exactly the kind of coordination that is not supposed to be allowed between campaigns and outside groups.

“By falsely claiming that their ad spending was independent, NRA affiliates dodged [federal] contribution limits, source bans and disclosure requirements, ”the Campaign Legal Center said in a statement.

OnMessage had previously sparked controversy in Missouri after the Kansas City Star revealed that shortly after Hawley was sworn in as state attorney general in 2017, he brought in consultants from the firm who would lead his campaign in the Senate in its official office to help lead taxpayers. staff funded.

A report released by the state auditor’s office in 2020 was unable to conclusively say whether the deal violated the law as state affairs were conducted using emails and private text messages.

During the 2018 campaign, Rosendale appeared to publicly confirm that his campaign was coordinating with the NRA, according to the lawsuit. During a fundraiser on July 18, 2018, Rosendale said that the political director of the NRA Institute of Legal Affairs, Chris Cox, would incur expenses to support Rosendale, then described precisely the content and the timeline. ads run weeks later, depending on the mix.

The lawsuit says Rosendale agreed to up to $ 383,196 in coordinated expenses. Hawley accepted up to $ 973,196, according to the lawsuit.

The bulk of the illegal spending – $ 25 million of the alleged $ 35 million in total – went to Trump’s campaign in 2016, according to the lawsuit.

Although the lawsuit names only Hawley and Rosendale, other questions regarding the other candidates named in the lawsuit could be addressed by the Federal Election Commission, the federal body regulating campaign finance violations. The FEC keeps the proceedings secret while they are in progress.

The lawsuit arose out of an administrative proceeding at the FEC that Giffords initiated in April 2019, but the commission – long ridiculed as a toothless regulator – took no action.

A September court order gave the agency 30 days to act. If the agency did not act, Giffords would be allowed under the order to take the case to civil court. The FEC has not acted since this court order.

Because the original complaint was filed in 2019, it did not cover the 2020 election, when Rosendale, Tillis, Gardner, Cotton, and Trump all ran for federal election again.

NRA representatives Hawley, Rosendale, Tillis, Johnson and Gardner did not respond to messages seeking comment on Friday.

Journalist Julie O’Donoghue contributed to this report.

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