According to Citizens for Ethics, a Washington DC watchdog group, “In our investigation into the NRA’s political spending, we discovered nearly $60 million in political spending between 2008 and 2016 that they failed to disclose. In 2016, we filed an IRS complaint about it.” There are numerous reports of tens of millions more of unreported spending in the run-up to the 2016 election, most of it going to Republican campaigns.
The NRA is a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization and, as such, is allowed to engage in political lobbying and advocacy, “but this cannot be its main activity. IRS regulations state that “social welfare organizations may also get involved in political campaigns and elections, provided their involvement is related to the group’s mission, and again, only if this does not constitute their primary activity.”
The spokespeople for the NRA give descriptions of its non-lobbying, non-campaign activities that strain credulity, even for members. So with the reports of unreported contributions, recent shootings, and a student-led string of NRA boycotts, we can expect corrective action demands to be forthcoming—perhaps even a revocation of the organization’s tax-exempt status.
Worst of all for the gun sales champion, $60 million plus in unreported political spending begs the question, if they didn’t report the spending, did they report the source or sources? With such sloppy reporting, it would seem unlikely that the organization did so. Recently, reports have it that Russia (specifically Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and a friend to both Vladimir Putin and the NRA) funneled tens of millions of dollars into the Trump campaign and Republican congressional and senatorial campaigns through the NRA. The Mueller investigation might shine light on, and perhaps take down, not only Trump but the NRA.
Richard Smith is an author and policy analyst in Northern Virginia