Burr, NRA even tighter than we thought

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page -

We al­ready knew North Carolina’s se­nior U.S. sen­a­tor, Richard Burr, was awash in NRA cash. We al­ready knew the pro­gun group spent $ 5.6 mil­lion in 2016 against his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Deb­o­rah Ross — twice as much as it spent on any other House or Se­nate can­di­date.

But only now do we know that Burr and the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion may have bro­ken the law by co­or­di­nat­ing their ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns. Doc­u­ments from the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion show that the NRA’s ads in Burr’s race were au­tho­rized by the same me­dia con­sul­tant work­ing for Burr’s cam­paign, Mother Jones and The Trace re­ported on Fri­day.

That would ap­pear to break fed­eral law that re­quires can­di­dates and out­side groups to be in­de­pen­dent of each other. Out­side groups can make “in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures” on so­called “is­sue ads,” which typ­i­cally back or at­tack one can­di­date or the other. But the spend­ing can’t be co­or­di­nated with an in­di­vid­ual’s cam­paign. That law is de­signed in part to keep ad­vo­cacy groups from ex­ceed­ing con­tri­bu­tion lim­its to in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates.

In a se­ries of TV ads in 2016, the NRA at­tacked Ross for her record as a state leg­is­la­tor on gun con­trol, say­ing she voted against gun rights and “per­sonal lib­erty.” It was part of an avalanche of out­side money dumped into the swing-state race with con­trol of the U.S. Se­nate at stake.

Mother Jones and The Trace re­port that Jon Fer­rell, CFO of a com­pany called Na­tional Me­dia Re­search, Plan­ning and Place­ment, au­tho­rized ad pur­chases both for Burr’s cam­paign and for NRA ads in Burr’s race. He placed some TV ads in the clos­ing weeks of the cam­paign as an “agent for Richard Burr Com­mit­tee” and oth­ers at around the same time for the NRA against Ross. Mother Jones found sim­i­lar ac­tiv­ity in 2018 Se­nate races in Mis­souri and Mon­tana.

Cam­paigns and out­side groups can hire the same ven­dors but those ven­dors must have strict fire­walls to pre­vent col­lab­o­ra­tion. A Burr cam­paign of­fi­cial sug­gested to the Ob­server ed­i­to­rial board that such a fire­wall was in place. But it’s hard to see how that’s so since Fer­rell was in­volved with both sets of ads.

Per­haps the NRA backs Burr be­cause of his con­sis­tent op­po­si­tion to rea­son­able gun reg­u­la­tions, or per­haps Burr op­poses cer­tain gun re­forms be­cause the NRA fills his cam­paign cof­fers. Ei­ther way, the new ev­i­dence show­ing how closely the two are in­ter­twined is just fur­ther fod­der for vot­ers who be­lieve politi­cians are owned by spe­cial in­ter­ests.

There’s some­thing about North Carolina and NRA money. Sen. Thom Til­lis ranks fourth in the na­tion for ben­e­fit­ing from NRA money. Last sum­mer, a re­port in Politico raised ques­tions about pos­si­ble il­le­gal co­or­di­na­tion be­tween a ven­dor for Til­lis’s cam­paign and the NRA.

The NRA’s grip on law­mak­ers helps make Amer­ica an out­lier for gun vi­o­lence. The Fed­eral Elec­tions Com­mis­sion, usu­ally split on par­ti­san lines, rarely en­forces the law re­quir­ing cam­paigns to be in­de­pen­dent from out­side groups. The ev­i­dence from Mother Jones, though, is con­vinc­ing, and points to the kind of ac­tiv­ity the FEC should not al­low in the five-alarm fire that the 2020 elec­tion will be.

GERRY BROOME AP

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