Yahoo News has an exclusive blockbuster of a story about how the NRA is almost certainly illegally funding its political lobbying without the consent of donors. This could be a very, very big problem for them:
Early last summer I began making contributions to the National Rifle Association — a dollar here, a dollar there — to see where my money would end up. Some of it quickly found its way into the account of the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, the NRA’s political action committee. And that was of no small interest, because I never knowingly contributed to the NRA-PVF. For me, this wasn’t a big problem; my contributions were a spit in the bucket for an organization that spent $37 million on the 2014 elections and operates on an annual budget of more than a quarter of a billion dollars.
But my contributions and others like them may be a big problem for the NRA because, according to some of the nation’s top experts on federal election law, they are all illegal.
The issue is not just that my donations ended up in a political fund account, but the way the NRA solicited them — and presumably those of thousands of others. In fact, each of these transactions almost certainly violated multiple provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and a legion of state and federal antifraud statutes designed to protect the public from phony charities and false or misleading solicitations.
The FECA makes a hard distinction between solicitations for elections and other solicitations, in part because many Americans don’t like donating to politicians. An NRA member might contribute to the organization because she admires its work on behalf of hunters. She might also contribute to an environmental group because she wants to preserve forests. But this same donor may vehemently oppose the candidates endorsed in federal elections by both the NRA and the environmental group. As a result, the law makes it clear that when these groups are soliciting for electoral purposes they must disclose that fact to potential donors.
If a private citizen says he’s raising money for a cancer charity and deposits the money into his personal bank account, he can be prosecuted for committing a fraud. Similarly, under federal election law, corporations like the NRA that set up what are known as “connected PACs” must inform potential donors if a PAC is the intended beneficiary of a solicitation.
The NRA can’t claim to be raising money for the corporation — to finance such things as its lobbying or research initiatives — and then deposit that money into the account of its PAC.
But that’s precisely what the NRA did when it solicited my contributions.
The NRA also appears to have violated a federal law that bars soliciting for a connected PAC from anyone other than the group’s employees or members — what the law calls its “restricted class.” And the NRA appears to have violated another provision that says Internet solicitations must be at websites that are accessible only to members (the restricted class), not the general public.