NRA, Trump Campaign Illegally Coordinated Election Ads, Charges FEC Complaint

The same media buyers purchased ads to "advance a unified election strategy," according to the filing.

A watchdog organization and a gun control advocacy group have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the National Rifle Association and the Trump campaign of illegally coordinating ads to influence the presidential election. The collusion amounted to an unreported and illegal multimillion-dollar contribution to massively amplify the media reach of the Trump campaign, according to the complaint.

“There is reason to believe that the NRA ... made illegal, unreported and excessive in-kind contributions to Donald J. Trump for President Inc. in the form of coordinated communications,” states the complaint filed Friday by the Campaign Legal Center and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action and its NRA Political Victory Fund PAC spent $25 million largely on television ads through the same companies and executives who arranged spots for Trump’s campaign, according to the complaint.

The arrangement meant that “spending by both the NRA and the Trump campaign would be complementary and advance a unified, coordinated election strategy,” the complaint states.

The complaint was filed following an investigation by Mother Jones magazine and Trace, which uncovered the monetary relationship between the NRA and the Trump campaign during the election.

Federal election law pointedly bars campaigns and independent organizations from coordinating such spending. Yet documents in a series of complaint exhibits reveal that the same four individuals purchased ads for both the Trump campaign and the NRA, in some case at the same TV stations, shortly before the election.

The Trump campaign paid $74.2 million to the American Media & Advocacy Group for ads, according to FEC records. The NRA used Red Eagle Media Group of National Media Research, Planning and Placement, which has the same address and employees as American Media, according to the complaint. Ads for both the NRA and Trump campaign targeted the same demographics in the same markets with similar or complementary messages and coordinated timing in a series of examples detailed in the complaint.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 20, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 20, 2016.
Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters

“This is some of the most compelling evidence we’ve ever seen of illegal coordination. The NRA can legally make unlimited expenditures to support the Trump campaign only if the organizations are completely independent. But if the same people buying ads for the Trump campaign are also placing the NRA’s pro-Trump ads, then the NRA’s spending is not at all independent,” Brendan Fischer of CLC said in a statement.

The NRA spent $36 million to influence the presidential election by attacking Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and supporting Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

With so much gun manufacturer money behind him, the president rarely addresses the role guns play in the increasing number of mass shootings in the nation. In fact, he consistently urges that more people be armed, including teachers at schools. He suggested armed guards patrol synagogues after the mass shooting in October at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Neither the NRA nor Trump representatives immediately responded to a request for comment.

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