It’s no wonder Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is so very touchy about his new Moscow Mitch nickname. Between that aluminum mill in Kentucky Russian oligarchs are helping out with and the election boost to the Republicans McConnell is facilitating by refusing to consider election protection legislation, he’s right to be worried. Now that guns are back in the electoral mix, with all that Russian money in the NRA, he’s got a lot more to consider.
NBC reports that, over his career, McConnell has received more than $1.2 million in campaign contributions from the NRA. In addition, the NRA spent “more than $800,000 in the 2018 election alone, not including $10 million in lobbying and $9 million in television and other electioneering in support of Republican candidates and $4 million of that spent on opposing Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.” That’s helped to keep McConnell in the majority leader’s seat. (He’s also teamed up with the NRA to remake the Supreme Court, but that’s another post.)
What the NRA spent in 2018 is a fraction of what it spent in 2016 to help elect Trump—$30 million to him alone. Thanks to the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in that election, which led to an investigation of the NRA and its ties to the Kremlin, we’ve discovered that McConnell really owes Putin and the oligarchs. The NRA has almost exclusively contributed to Republicans in this decade, pretty much as long as Russia has been grooming the NRA. “NRA leaders have been feted in Moscow, representatives of Russian pro-gun organizations become part of the alt-Reich infrastructure in the United States, and funds have regularly flowed from Moscow into the coffers of the NRA and similar groups,” Mark Sumner wrote last year.
How much money it has received from the at least 23 Russian nationals who’ve contributed, we don’t know. That’s dark money that doesn’t have to be disclosed (thanks to McConnell and the Supreme Court, but that’s another post too). But the NRA did get $30 million more in political contributions in 2016, when the Russians were specifically assisting Trump, than it had in previous years. So there’s that. The Kremlin and the oligarchs saw this potential wedge into the Republican Party, into Congress, into the White House—the NRA—and they used it. What was their goal in 2016? As Sumner pointed out, it was ending sanctions. At that time, it was ending sanctions on Dmitry Rogozin—a hardline deputy to Vladimir Putin—for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
The NRA and the Kremlin got what they wanted: Trump in the White House and a Republican Senate happy to do away with sanctions against them. That includes the sanctions imposed by the lame-duck Obama administration in response to Russia’s election interference, which McConnell pushed through. What happened next? McConnell’s home state of Kentucky got a new aluminum mill courtesy of the formerly sanctioned Russian company Rusal. And of the lobbying efforts of former McConnell chief of staff Hunter Bates and adviser Brendan Dunn. Fancy that.
The NRA, the Kremlin, McConnell, Trump. Now that’s a vicious circle, literally, and with a body count. Moscow Mitch, indeed.