The National Rifle Association on Thursday rejected claims made by gun control advocates that it violated Connecticut campaign finance law by transferring contributions from its national political action committee to affect state elections, namely Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s 2014 reelection campaign.
The complaint was filed Wednesday by researchers at Brown University and individuals with connections to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown – the scene of one of the bloodiest mass shootings in the country’s history – and alleges the gun rights group had funneled thousands in political contributions from national to state PACs between 2003 and 2006 in support of Malloy’s Republican rival, Thomas Foley, and thousands more for distribution among other state races.
NRA officials denied the claim, saying those donations were made by its Connecticut NRA Political Victory Fund and provided Guns.com with copies of receipts for Connecticut campaign contributions totaling $11,600.
“NRA PVF- CT was funded by individual donations directly deposited into the account,” NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said in an email. “The National NRA PAC did not transfer money to the Connecticut PAC.”
When asked why identical contributions were filed on both state and national campaign forms – something the complaint alleges is proof of a campaign finance violation – Mortensen during a later phone call said the complainants were confused, anti-gun advocates with an agenda and reinforced the NRA’s position that it did not do anything illegal.
Among those who filed the complaint against the NRA were Carlos Soto, whose sister, Victoria, was a teacher at Sandy Hook and one of six staff members and 20 children killed on Dec. 14, 2012, by a lone gunman.
“The NRA’s effort to subvert Connecticut’s campaign finance laws is literally putting lives in danger,” Soto said in a statement. “There is so much at stake when it comes to ending gun violence, and we won’t let our state elections be corrupted by the NRA’s dirty campaign tricks.”
Soto was joined by Sarah Clements, whose mother, Abbey, was also a teacher at the elementary school and survived the shooting, Po Murray, a mother of children who attended the school, and Duncan Weinstein, a Brown University graduate student who lived near the shooter. Also involved in issuing the complaint was Sam Bell, who served as the state coordinator for the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats and in 2013 started investigating the NRA’s spending practices on campaigns in his state.
In early 2014, Bell filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Board of Elections against the NRA, who was issued a $63,000 fine for failing to disclose the names of donors.
The Connecticut complaint further alleges the state NRA PAC claimed to raise more than $20,000 in small contributions of $30 or less in 2006 – an effort to skirt the reporting of each – and held on to most of the funds until 2014 in an attempt to defeat Malloy in his later bid for reelection.
“The NRA’s national PAC didn’t report these contributions to the FEC just by accident,” Doug Heller, spokesman for the complainants, told Guns.com. “Over-reporting is not what they do. What they do is use money raised by the national arm of the NRA to underwrite state contributions and campaigns under the guise of their state PACs, and that’s illegal in Connecticut.”
While it’s illegal under Connecticut law to use contributions solicited nationally for state races, that’s not the case in all states.
Assuming the double filing was over-reporting, a simple filing mistake, which the NRA hasn’t admitted to, it wouldn’t be the first time. The gun rights group in April admitted it made a mistake in 2014 by accidentally funneling online donations meant for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action to the NRA’s Political Victory Fund because of a coding error.
NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the total amount of donations affected was about $125,000 of $50.8 million – a drop in the bucket – by both the NRA’s lobbying and political action arms for that election cycle. Though the amount was small by comparison, the mistake was a violation of federal election law.
The Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission is required to respond within seven days of the complaint’s filing and is expected to bring the item up for discussion at its Sept. 15 meeting.