Despite FEC Complaint, the NRA Is Still Using a Mystery Firm to Back Senate Candidates

The Trace

The National Rifle Association made its first major foray into the 2018 election cycle last week, unleashing ads on behalf of Republican challengers to Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And in both cases, the gun group continued to pay a mysterious vendor that, according to one election watchdog, appears to be a shell company set up to circumvent election laws limiting how much the NRA can spend on candidates. That firm, according to the NRA’s latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, is Starboard Strategic Inc. As The Trace and Politico Magazine reported in July, Starboard Strategic, which is the NRA’s top election contractor — to the tune of more than $60 million from the gun group since 2014 — appears to be little more than the alter ego of an established firm called OnMessage, Inc. The two entities share the same office addresses and partners, one of whom registered Starboard’s opaque, skeletal website (after our story was published, the domain registration was privatized).

OnMessage is a prominent consulting firm that works directly with GOP campaigns. According to an FEC complaint that the Campaign Legal Center filed shortly after our investigation, Starboard Strategic and OnMessage are “functionally indistinguishable.” The NRA is free to independently spend as much as it wants on political candidates, so long as the group isn’t coordinating its messaging and strategy with the candidates’ campaigns.

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