AUTHOR’S NOTE: The author of this blog post is not an attorney and does not claim to be an attorney.
Giffords, the pro-gun safety organization founded by former U.S. Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords (D-AZ), is suing the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for failing to adequately enforce campaign finance laws in regards to an apparent scheme by the National Rifle Association (NRA), a far-right gun proliferation group with extensive ties to gun manufacturers and prominent Republican politicians, including, but not limited to, President Donald Trump, to willfully violate campaign finance laws.
While the FEC is listed as the defendant in the actual lawsuit, a full copy of which can be found here, a lot of attention is going to be paid to the NRA and campaign organizations of the Republican politicians referenced in the lawsuit, including President Donald Trump, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Montana Auditor Matt Rosendale, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in Montana as a Republican in 2018. All of the named politicians are Republicans who sought federal elected office in either 2014, 2016, or 2018, and all but Rosendale won their respective elections, with Johnson winning re-election to the U.S. Senate, Trump winning an open-seat presidential race with an Electoral College majority despite winning a minority of the national popular vote, and Gardner, Tillis, and Hawley defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Senators.
In the case of the NRA’s support of Trump, the NRA, through two of its subsidiaries, the NRA-ILA and the NRA-PVF, both of which are NRA-controlled political organizations, donated approximately 9,259 times the maximum legally-permissible amount for coordinated, in-kind contributions from a political committee, such as the two NRA-controlled political organizations, to Trump’s presidential campaign committee:
(31) An outside group that makes coordinated expenditures must report them as a contribution to the candidate, subject to the contribution limits and source restrictions discussed above. Corporations are prohibited from making such in-kind contributions, while in-kind contributions from political committees are subject to the $2,700 contribution limit. 52 U.S.C §§ 30116(a)(1), 30118(a).
(32) Since at least the 2014 election cycle, the NRA-PFV and the NRA-ILA have coordinated with candidate campaigns to develop advertisements through a common vendor, using a shell company associated with political consulting firm OnMessage. Since at least the 2016 election cycle, the NRA-PVF and the NRA-ILA have coordinated with candidate campaigns to place advertisements in complementary fashion, including on the same stations and programs, using shell companies associated with media strategy firm National Media.
(33) By coordinating their advertising strategy in this manner, the NRA-PVF and the NRA-ILA have made up to $35 million in contributions to candidate campaigns since the 2014 election, in excess of the contribution limits, in violation of the source restrictions, and without the disclosure required under federal law. This includes up to $25 million in coordinated, illegal contributions to the Trump campaign in 2016.Source
Dividing $25 million, the estimated value of coordinated, illegal in-kind contributions by NRA-controlled political organizations to the Trump campaign, by $2,700, the maximum permissible in-kind contribution by a non-campaign political organization to a federal campaign committee, yields slightly over 9,259. That means that the NRA, through a pair of NRA-controlled political organizations, gave over 9,259 times the maximum legal amount of permissible coordinated, in-kind contributions to the Trump campaign!
These coordinated, in-kind contributions were in the form of a complex coordinated scheme called a common vendor scheme. There is an infographic on page 6 of the lawsuit that details the common vendor scheme used by the NRA and GOP candidates; any attempt by me to explain the common vendor scheme on this blog post would be redundant and probably create a ton of confusion. Nonetheless, the Giffords lawsuit is alleging one of the most brazen and massive campaign finance violations in U.S. history, and, if those allegations are proven true, then there should be serious legal consequences for the individuals and organizations involved in the scheme.