The NRA is finally about to face the music for their years of shady lobbying and illegal political donations.
On Wednesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit political watchdog group, asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to launch investigations into the National Rifle Association for a number of violations the group says they committed over six years. CREW asked the IRS to investigate the NRA after they failed to disclose more than $33.5 spent on political activity between 2008 to 2013. They also asked the FEC to investigate when it was discovered that the firearms group was soliciting donations from the public for their lobbying arm but spending the donations on the political arm of their organization. If true, the NRA could face multiple federal charges.
According to CREW, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), the lobbying arm of the NRA, reported over $33.5 million in political expenditures to the FEC. According to FEC filings, the group reported that they spent almost $11 million in independent expenditures and member communications that advocated for the election or defeat of various federal candidates from 2008 to 2013. They also reported $22.5 million administrative and fundraising expenses for their political action committee, the NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF). By law, the NRA is required to report how much money they spent on political activity to the IRS every year, but according to their Form 990 tax filings, they told to IRS that they had no political expenses to report.
When the NRA was confronted with the evidence that they lied to the IRS, they claimed that it was a “clerical error” and instead of filing amended tax forms, they ignored their mistake.
CREW also claims that the organization lied to its donors and told them that the money they donated would be going to the lobbying arm of the NRA, but diverted the donations to the NRA-PVF. In April 2015, Yahoo News reporter Alan Berlow said that he made several $1 donations to the NRA-ILA, received thank you emails from them, but then noticed that his credit card statements showed the money going to the NRA-PVF. CREW is asking the FEC to investigate, because it is illegal for the organization to lie to donors about where their money is going.
When the NRA was confronted with this evidence, they claimed it was a “coding error” that only affected about $125,000 in donations. Only? How many people donated $1 or $5, like Berlow, and had their money diverted? It’s just as important to know how many people were deceived as it is to know how much they were fleeced out of.
“The idea that the NRA, one of the most sophisticated and influential advocacy organizations in the country, doesn’t know how to fill out a simple tax return just does not ring true,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “The NRA should be transparent about its multi-million dollar investment in politics. It is highly disturbing that the NRA failed to disclose these political activities in its tax filings and then tried to simply wave off such a serious failure to meet its legal obligations…The NRA appears to have deceived both the federal government and its own donors, in violation of federal laws and rules.”
Not only did they deceive their donors, but they also failed to report where exactly the money was coming from. It is a federal law to report the occupation and name of any donor who makes a contribution over $200. CREW claims that there were multiple times when the NRA left that information blank.
It is pretty hard to believe that a group as large and powerful as the NRA, made so many “mistakes” on tax forms. If they were truly mistakes, then the group would have immediately rectified the situation and amended their tax returns, but they didn’t. It’s more plausible that the NRA, who has almost a God-like status within the Republican Party, thought they were exempt from the laws that govern the rest of us. The problem is that right-wing groups are so used to being shielded by the GOP that they think they can get away with anything. If the Brady Campaign Against Violence did what the NRA did, Republicans would be out for blood; but when it’s the NRA, all we here are crickets.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.