July 18, 2024

The NRA’s financial stake in Republicans

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Eitorial Board

For years, the National Rifle Association has abetted death and mayhem on America’s streets, empowered by its iron grip on the Republican Party.

A new lawsuit alleges an unlawful component of that dark symbiotic relationship. It claims the NRA has circumvented campaign finance laws to illegally funnel tens of millions of dollars in campaign resources to Donald Trump and other Republican politicians, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.

The suit is from the nonprofit Giffords, named for former Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who survived a gunshot to the head during a 2011 attack at a public meeting by a gunman who wounded 19 people and killed six, including a 9-year-old girl.

Those kinds of attacks are rare in most of the advanced world but numbingly common in America, largely for one reason: The NRA, through its stranglehold on elected Republicans in Congress and in state governments, has for decades prevented common-sense gun restrictions that even most gun owners support, like universal background checks and assault weapon bans.

The NRA obtains that leverage in part by making generous campaign donations to Republican candidates who share or at least are willing to publicly support the organization’s extremist stance against virtually any regulations on guns. Giffords’ suit alleges that, in addition to the legal donations the NRA has made to those politicians, it has been using shell companies to illegally coordinate campaign activities with Republican campaigns in order to get around contribution limits.

The suit alleges that the organization spent as much as $35 million in this way since 2014. Most of it allegedly went to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, but the suit claims other beneficiaries include Hawley, who won his Senate seat in 2018. Also cited in the suit are Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and others.

While federal election law limits the amount that donors can give to candidates in cash or services, an organization can spend freely in support of a candidate, as long as there is no coordination between the organization and the candidate. The lawsuit alleges that the NRA’s shell companies used the same personnel and vendors as the Republican campaigns were using to create ads for the campaigns, coordinating their efforts.

If true, that essentially means the NRA was making tens of millions of dollars’ worth of in-kind contributions to the campaigns, which it wouldn’t be allowed to do directly. The suit seeks to stop those practices.

These aren’t mere technicalities. Campaign contribution limits exist for a reason: A big donor shouldn’t be able to impose its agenda on society just by opening its checkbook. That is perhaps especially true when the agenda in question is to prevent America from confronting the carnage that the NRA and its GOP enablers are causing.

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