A joint investigation by The Trace and Mother Jones documents clear coordination between the National Rifle Association and the Trump campaign in media ad buys during the 2016 presidential election. Such coordination between a candidate’s campaign committee and third-party groups is a violation of election laws.
The two groups used ostensibly separate companies to make the ad buys in markets all over the country, but the companies were in fact so closely tied that a single man approved both sets of purchases.
The two purchases may have looked coincidental; Red Eagle and AMAG appear at first glance to be separate firms. But each is closely connected to a major conservative media-consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement. In fact, the three outfits are so intertwined that both the NRA’s and the Trump campaign’s ad buys were authorized by the same person: National Media’s chief financial officer, Jon Ferrell.
“This is very strong evidence, if not proof, of illegal coordination,” said Larry Noble, a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission. “This is the heat of the general election, and the same person is acting as an agent for the NRA and the Trump campaign.”
Reporting by The Trace, which has teamed up with Mother Jones to investigate the NRA’s political activity, shows that the NRA and the Trump campaign employed the same operation—at times, the exact same people—to craft and execute their advertising strategies for the 2016 presidential election. The investigation, which involved a review of more than 1,000 pages of Federal Communications Commission and Federal Election Commission documents, found multiple instances in which National Media, through its affiliates Red Eagle and AMAG, executed ad buys for Trump and the NRA that seemed coordinated to enhance each other…
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where illegal coordination seems more obvious,” said Ann Ravel, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission, who reviewed the records. “It is so blatant that it doesn’t even seem sloppy. Everyone involved probably just thinks there aren’t going to be any consequences.”
The way it works is that if such coordination takes place, it’s considered an in-kind donation to the campaign by the third-party group and is subject to a $5000 limit. But the NRA spent $30 million, at least some of it apparently funneled through a series of shell companies controlled by Russian oligarchs, helping get Trump elected, more than any other third-party group. And frankly, it’s time to end this absurd fiction of “issues ads” by third-party groups that pretend to be about something other than getting someone elected.
You know those commercials you see during a campaign that don’t say “vote for so-and-so” but instead end with “call so-and-so and tell them you don’t support them kicking puppies and drowning old ladies in the bathtub”? Those are classified as “issues ads” and are taken out by third-party groups, as opposed to “electioneering ads” that tell people to vote for this or that candidate. The issues ads are not subject to spending limits, nor do they have to reveal who is funding the organization that took them out. It’s what we mean when we talk about “dark money” influencing elections. Time to end that fiction once and for all.