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NRA at center of new lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission

President Trump speaks May 4 at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Dallas. (Susan Walsh/AP)
President Trump speaks May 4 at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Dallas. (Susan Walsh/AP)
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An anti-gun-violence organization founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Federal Election Commission for failing to take action against the National Rifle Association for alleged campaign finance violations.

The lawsuit charges that the federal agency did nothing when confronted with repeated complaints by Giffords and the Campaign Legal Center accusing the NRA of using shell corporations to donate more than the legal amount to seven federal candidates, including President Trump, and to coordinate with their campaigns without disclosing it.

“The FEC is supposed to be the nation’s election watchdog, but in this case it didn’t bite, bark, or even whimper,” Adam Skaggs, chief counsel of Giffords Law Center, said in a statement.

In addition to Trump, the suit names Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and 2018 GOP Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in Montana as beneficiaries of the NRA’s alleged violations, court documents show.

The organization led by Giffords, who became one of the nation’s leading anti-gun- violence advocates after she was shot at an event in her district in 2011, is asking the court to compel the FEC to act on its complaints about the NRA.

“We scrupulously follow the law,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in response to the lawsuit. “This latest effort by Giffords and the Campaign Legal Center is a frivolous lawsuit based on a frivolous complaint.”

In the 2016 presidential election, the suit alleges, that the NRA circumvented campaign laws by using the same individuals who were handling Trump’s campaign ads to also place its ads in support of Trump. The media buyers operated under different company names, but shared the same address.

The pro-gun group paid more than $25 million for activities supporting Trump.

Campaign finance law says a corporate-sponsored political action committee can contribute no more than $5,000 to a candidate’s campaign, but it can donate unlimited amounts to outside groups on behalf of a candidate as long as the outside group and the campaign do not coordinate.

In February, Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the NRA asking for more information about these alleged violations.

“Any expenditure made in coordination with a candidate is considered to be an in-kind contribution to the candidate,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.) wrote. “The relationship between the firms the NRA employed and the firms the Trump Campaign and other Republican candidates used suggests illegal coordination.”