The Mystery Firm That Became the NRA's Top Election Consultant


Heading into the 2014 midterm elections, polls showed the Republican Party had an opportunity to retake control of the Senate. Such a change would severely limit President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda during his final two years in office, an outcome that was especially attractive to the National Rifle Association. In the wake of devastating events like the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the president had become an aggressive promoter of new gun regulations.

Two former FEC chairs, one Republican and the other Democrat, reviewed the findings of Politico Magazine and The Trace, and said they found them troubling. “This evidence raises substantial questions about whether OnMessage and Starboard Strategic were used as conduits for coordination between the NRA and the candidates it was supporting,” Trevor Potter, the Republican, said. “It’s pretty serious,” added Ann Ravel, the Democrat. “It doesn’t seem right.” Both former chairs independently came to the same conclusion: “The FEC should investigate.“

In a close race, coordination can provide a candidate with crucial advantages. “When a group like the NRA is operating independently, there’s a potential for its messaging to conflict with that of the candidate it’s supporting,” Brendan Fischer, the director of the Federal Reform Program at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said. “There’s also a good chance inefficiencies will arise. The NRA could target the wrong set of voters, or the same voters as the candidate, which would make its spending redundant.” Sharing information, Fischer went on, allows an outside group and an official campaign to unfairly operate in harmony. “So if candidates are spending a lot of money between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., for example, then perhaps the NRA’s money is better spent between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.”

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