Mother Jones is reporting that the National Rifle Association illegally shared information with Republican Senate campaigns in at least three states. In Missouri and Montana during the 2018 election, and in North Carolina in 2016, the NRA’s media consultant worked directly for Republican candidates in “an apparent violation of laws designed to prevent independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with political campaigns.” The candidates known to have benefited from the NRA’s illegal coordination were Josh Hawley in Missouri, Matt Rosedale in Montana, and Richard Burr in North Carolina.
In 2018, Mother Jones uncovered coordination between the NRA and the Trump campaign in which both employed the company National Media Research to direct their advertising. By operating through the same agency, ads for Trump and the NRA could play off each other, coordinating message and placement. The NRA did the same thing with Republican Senate candidates, using a single firm to place NRA ads favoring those candidates, or attacking their opponents, so as to reinforce messages and provide optimal timing.
And that is simply against the law. FEC regulations bar outside groups from sharing any information. That’s not just polling, or working together on creating ads. That’s also ad placement strategy. Vendors who work with both candidates and organizations are supposed to create an “internal firewall” in their staff so that no one knows information from both campaigns. In the case of the NRA and Republican candidates, it appears that there wasn’t even a gesture toward creating such a wall.
“All evidence points to coordination,” said Larry Noble, the general counsel of the FEC from 1987 to 2000, in response to a detailed description of the documents. “It’s hard to understand how you’d have the same person authorizing placements for the NRA and the candidate and it not be coordination.”
With Russian operative Maria Butina coordinating with the NRA, the NRA admitting that it took in Russian funds, and the FBI investigating whether those funds went straight to the NRA’s $30 million campaign to promote Trump, it would seem possible that some of those same forces might have also slipped some dollars toward support of Republican Senate candidates.
But whether or not Republicans were supported directly by illegal funds from Moscow, it appears clear that they were supported by illegal ad coordination from the NRA.