Lawsuit: NRA illegally funneled money to Hawley, Trump, other Republicans – STLtoday.com

Lawsuit: NRA illegally funneled money to Hawley, Trump, other Republicans

President Trump campaigns for Josh Hawley

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley addresses the crowd alongside President Donald Trump during a Make America Great Again rally on Nov. 1, 2018, at Hangar 350 at the Columbia Regional Airport.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Laurie Skrivan • Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY — U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley’s 2018 campaign operation is being sued as part of a federal lawsuit against the National Rifle Association.

The suit, filed Tuesday by the Campaign Legal Center on behalf of former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, alleges the NRA broke campaign finance laws by using shell companies to funnel money to Hawley, President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates.

The lawsuit is a continuation of allegations lodged against Hawley’s 2018 campaign, as well as during his abbreviated tenure as Missouri attorney general, when some of the same political consultants named in Giffords’ legal action were meeting with Hawley’s taxpayer-paid staff to coordinate his schedule and activities.

At the time, Hawley’s campaign manager, who also was named in the lawsuit, said a “firewall” had been set up to make sure there was no coordination with the gun-rights group.

But a 2019 report by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, in conjunction with The Trace, which describes itself as an independent newsroom dedicated to shining a light on gun violence, describes how the same person from National Media, a Virginia-based political, corporate and issue advocacy media firm, bought ads for both Hawley and the NRA in Missouri, and that those ads often ran in close proximity on Missouri radio stations during Hawley’s victory over former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

The ad buys were alleged to have violated laws designed to prevent independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with political campaigns.

Giffords retired from Congress after she was shot in the head at point-blank range during a 2011 mass shooting in her district in Arizona that killed six and injured 12.

Her nonprofit group has been pursuing action against the NRA on the apparent coordination since 2018, when it filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission.

The lawsuit is the result of a court decision that came after the FEC did not act on the complaints.

According to the lawsuit, the NRA has made as much as $35 million in unlawful, excessive and unreported in-kind campaign contributions to seven federal candidates since 2014.

“The NRA has long acted like it is above the law, and it has done so flagrantly in the last several election cycles. This lawsuit demonstrates that the NRA broke the law by illegally coordinating with federal campaigns and funneling millions of dollars to candidates who supported their extremist, deadly agenda,” said David Pucino, Giffords Law Center senior staff attorney. “We are suing the NRA to finally hold them accountable for actions that corrupted politicians and undermined our democracy.” 

A spokeswoman for Hawley did not return a message from the Post-Dispatch.

The NRA told The Washington Post in a statement that the lawsuit is “as misguided as it is transparent.”

“Another premeditated abuse of the public by our adversaries — who will stop at nothing in their pursuit of their anti-freedom agenda,” the organization said. “Suffice to say, the NRA has full confidence in its political activities and remains eager to set the record straight.”

The lawsuit says that vendors used by campaigns were the same group of people associated with the NRA.

“They are led by the same people, located at the same address, and have no internal separation or firewall between the staff who work for each entity,” the lawsuit said. “Indeed, the same staff performed work for both the NRA Affiliates and the candidates’ campaigns during the same election cycle.”

Among those named as being affiliated with the companies was Brad Todd, who served as a Hawley spokesman. According to the suit, Todd is a founding partner of OnMessage Inc. and a director at Starboard, two of the shell companies involved in the campaigns.

In 2019, Todd denied there had been illegal coordination with the NRA and said the story in The Trace was the work of “an anti-gun liberal activist.”

Others involved in Starboard and OnMessage include Tim Teepell and Gail Gitchko, both of whom were active in Hawley’s campaign.

At the time, Hawley said the outside assistance, which was financed by his state campaign fund, helped him in his first run for office.

“From Day One, we’ve made combating human trafficking, taking on the opioid industry, protecting Missouri consumers a top priority. And I came into office wanting to do that and you can see that reflected in everything, from our notes, our meetings, our calendars, all of that from the very first,” Hawley said.

On the campaign trail, Teepell was among the entourage traveling with Hawley as he made stops in Mexico, Hannibal, La Plata and Macon in 2018.

The relationship between Hawley and his consultants also was documented by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway in 2020.

Galloway’s office found evidence of 11 in-person and phone meetings between Hawley’s staff and his political consultants from January to July 2017. Over that same period, Hawley’s campaign paid a combined $141,000 to the political advisers OnMessage, First Tuesday and HLC Strategic LLC.

Galloway, a Democrat, also said there was evidence of other meetings, but that the attorney general’s office did not keep documentation.

Hawley said the same masculine qualities being vilified ‘have long been regarded as vital to self-government.’

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