Gage Skidmore / Flickr Dana Loesch...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

In 2016, the NRA saw an unexplained $29 million increase in their revenues over 2015. That year they put $30 million behind Donald Trump, the single largest contributor to his campaign. And that was only part of the $55 million the organization spent on all politician campaigns that year.

With numerous reports of connections between the NRA and Russia, and the NRA hiding behind its status as a “nonprofit” to hide the details of its funding sources, there has been a great deal of speculation that the NRA acted as a straight pipeline from Russian oligarchs into the campaigns of Trump and other Republicans. And an effort from the NRA to address this question definitely does not remove that possibility.

The National Rifle Association acknowledged that it accepts foreign donations but says it does not use them for election work — even as federal investigators look into the role the NRA might have played in Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.

Actually, that’s not what the NRA said. Here’s what the NRA said.

“While we do receive some contributions from foreign individuals and entities, those contributions are made directly to the NRA for lawful purposes,” NRA’s General Counsel John C. Frazer wrote to Wyden in a letter obtained by NPR. “Our review of our records has found no foreign donations in connection with a United States election, either directly or through a conduit.”

Notice that the NRA does not say they didn’t apply foreign funds to American campaigns. They said that “contributions are made directly to the NRA for lawful purpose” and that no foreign donations were made “in connection with” a US election. That says something about the official reason that donations came in.

It says nothing about how the NRA spent that money.

Even if the NRA is taking in millions in foreign funds, applying those to its general use, then dipping into its coffers to distribute funds that it claims came from American sources, that doesn’t exactly make it free from the charge of using foreign funds to pay for American elections. After all …

Actually, Planned Parenthood goes to great lengths to never co-mingle funds, exactly so that it can’t be accused of simply shuffling any funds that come from the government to pay for abortions. But the NRA won’t say that it is making any such provisions. In fact, they’re making it clear that they don’t keep these funds separate.

While the NRA claims it does not receive foreign money for election purposes, the movement of its money among accounts could make it difficult, if not impossible, to track how the money is spent since it is not isolated or sequestered.

The limited responses from the NRA were made in response to a demand by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who asked the NRA:

“Can you categorically state that your organizations have never, wittingly or unwittingly, received any contributions from individuals or entities acting as conduits for foreign entities or interests?”

What Wyden got back was the “lawful purposes” and “in connection with” statement. In other words: No, no the NRA will not make such a categorical statement.

And in fact, the NRA made exactly the opposite statement:

The NRA has a variety of accounts, and the NRA Political Victory Fund is its official political action committee and must report all of its spending to the Federal Election Commission.

It also has other accounts that require less transparency and do not report spending to the FEC — and in those funds, the NRA told Wyden, the group receives “funds from foreign persons only for purposes not connected to elections, as permitted by federal law.”

However, the NRA acknowledges that money moves among those accounts: “Transfers between accounts are made as permitted by law,” the NRA’s general counsel wrote.

Which sounds very, very much like an absolute admission that the NRA takes in foreign money to one of its “lawful purposes” funds, then bumps dollars from that fund to it’s “Victory” fund.

Wyden did not ask how much the NRA receives in rubles.

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