A federal judge ordered the Federal Election Commission to investigate accusations that the National Rifle Association broke the law when it gave Republican campaigns millions of dollars through a series of shell entities — including the initial White House bid of former President Donald Trump.
The case originated with a 2019 lawsuit filed by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which was started by former Congresswoman and gun violence survivor Gabrielle Giffords. The organization argued in that the FEC had failed to take action on four separate complaints, alleging the NRA "violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by using a complex network of shell corporations to unlawfully coordinate expenditures with the campaigns of at least seven candidates for federal office."
The Giffords Law Center's original complaint specifically alleges the pro-firearm organization donated up to $25 million illegally to Trump's 2016 campaign through channels like the NRA Political Victory Fund. The complaint also argues that "illegal contributions to the Trump campaign alone are up to 9,259 times the limit set by Congress." Other political candidates that the complaint alleges were implicated in the scheme include Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.
In a one page ruling last week, Judge Emmett Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, demanded that the FEC "comply with its statutory duty to act", and gave the body 30 days to make a determination, denying the FEC's motion to dismiss the Giffords Law Center's suit.
The FEC generally has five years to act on campaign finance violations — meaning this ruling forces the FEC to act on potential violations from the 2016 election that otherwise may have fallen outside the statute of limitations.
Former President Trump had previously stacked the FEC with GOP loyalists, including Trey Trainor, a former Trump campaign aide, while at the same time leaving enough seats vacant that the regulatory body was not able to meet for most of last year. When it finally reconvened in December 2020, they had amassed a whopping backlog of 446 cases.
Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the NRA, said in a statement to The Hill that the lawsuit is "a baseless effort engineered by anti-gun groups who want to silence the voices of our members."
After the ruling from Judge Sullivan, David Pucino, an attorney for the Giffords Law Centre, said, "It is clear the NRA will continue to violate the law until someone stops them."