Com­plaint al­leges NRA used shell com­pany to un­law­fully co­or­di­nate with John­son’s cam­paign

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Lisa Neff Staff writer

A com­plaint filed with the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion al­leges the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion vi­o­lated U.S. law by us­ing a com­mon ven­dor to il­le­gally co­or­di­nate with Ron John­son’s 2016 cam­paign and three other Se­nate cam­paigns.

The com­plaint was filed by the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter, which has been at the fore­front of the cam­paign in Wis­con­sin for fair maps and fair elec­tions.

Fed­eral cam­paign fi­nance law pro­hibits co­or­di­na­tion be­tween can­di­dates and out­side groups such as the NRA.

In an ef­fort to pre­serve in­de­pen­dence, FEC rules limit how a ven­dor can work for both a can­di­date and an out­side group sup­port­ing that can­di­date.

CLC, cit­ing a July 13 re­port by Politico Magazine, says the GOP con­sult­ing firm OnMes­sage set up a shell cor­po­ra­tion called Star­board. The cor­po­ra­tion was lo­cated at the same site as OnMes­sage and was vir­tu­ally in­dis­tin­guish­able from its par­ent firm.

Star­board’s ap­par­ent pur­pose was to help the NRA evade FEC rules. As a re­sult, the NRA may have made mil­lions in il­le­gal and ex­ces­sive in-kind con­tri­bu­tions, ac­cord­ing to the CLC.

“There is sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence that the NRA fun­neled mil­lions through a shell cor­po­ra­tion to un­law­fully co­or­di­nate with can­di­dates it was back­ing,” stated Bren­dan Fis­cher, di­rec­tor of fed­eral re­form at the CLC. “The NRA us­ing in­side in­for­ma­tion about a can­di­date’s strat­egy to cre­ate ‘in­de­pen­dent’ ads sup­port­ing him cre­ates an un­fair ad­van­tage and it vi­o­lates the law.”

The NRA’s lob­by­ing arm and PAC con­tracted with Star­board to cre­ate ads sup­port­ing John­son in 2016, as well as U.S. Se­nate can­di­dates Tom Cot­ton, Cory Gard­ner and Thom Til­lis in 2014. John­son has an “A” rank­ing with the gun rights group.

The Se­nate can­di­dates, mean­while, hired OnMes­sage, ac­cord­ing to the CLC.

The NRA es­sen­tially is Star­board’s only client, with the ex­cep­tion of a small job for the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee. OnMes­sage re­peat­edly has taken credit for ad­ver­tise­ments the NRA paid Star­board to pro­duce.

The NRA PAC and its lob­by­ing arm have “il­le­gally made ex­ces­sive, cor­po­rate and un­re­ported in-kind con­tri­bu­tions to the Thom Til­lis Com­mit­tee, Cot­ton for Se­nate, Cory Gard­ner for Se­nate, and/or Ron John­son for Se­nate Inc.,” the CLC states in the com­plaint.

The com­plaint says that in the 2016 elec­tion cy­cle, the NRA PAC paid $315,066 to Star­board for in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures sup­port­ing John­son or op­pos­ing his op­po­nent. Also, its lob­by­ing arm paid $48,537 to Star­board for John­son’s in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures.

Mean­while, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint, John­son’s cam­paign com­mit­tee, Ron John­son for Se­nate Inc., re­ported pay­ing OnMes­sage $3.8 mil­lion dur­ing the same cy­cle for “placed me­dia,” “strat­egy con­sult­ing,” and other ser­vices.

The cam­paign re­ported dis­burse­ments to OnMes­sage at its An­napo­lis, Mary­land, of­fices.

The NRA lob­by­ing arm also re­ported dis­burse­ments to Star­board at the same ad­dress on its re­ports in the 2016 cy­cle, in­clud­ing for its in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures sup­port­ing John­son.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Supreme Court, groups such as the NRA only can make un­lim­ited ex­pen­di­tures if they are in­de­pen­dent of the can­di­dates they sup­port, Fis­cher said.

“It falls to the FEC to en­force the laws that pre­serve that in­de­pen­dence and pre­vent cor­rup­tion,” he said.

The NRA did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

In 2016, John­son de­feated Demo­crat Russ Fein­gold with 50.2 per­cent of the vote. Fein­gold won 46.8 per­cent.

‘There is sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence that the

NRA fun­neled mil­lions through a shell cor­po­ra­tion to un­law­fully co­or­di­nate with can­di­dates it was back­ing.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.