Senators Call for Investigation Into NRA’s Campaign Shell Game

The Trace

Nine U.S. senators are calling for a Federal Election Commission investigation into the National Rifle Association’s use of an apparent shell company to skirt election laws.

In a joint letter to FEC Chair Caroline Hunter and Vice Chair Ellen Weintraub, the lawmakers — led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — asked the FEC to “open an investigation into a potential campaign finance violation” alleged by the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, in two complaints that are currently before the commission. 

The complaints claim that the NRA uses a company called Starboard Strategic Inc. to circumvent laws prohibiting election-related coordination between campaigns and outside groups who support them. They grew out of reports published by The Trace over the summer showing that Starboard — which exclusively services the NRA, and has received more than $60 million from the gun group — appears to be functionally indistinguishable from OnMessage Inc., a prominent political consulting firm. Corporate records show that Starboard and OnMessage share the same principals and offices.

When campaigns and outside groups use a common vendor, they are required to establish a “firewall” to prevent executives and staffers working for either client from sharing information. OnMessage and Starboard have repeatedly refused to share details of any such firewall policy.

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