March 8, 2016 – The National Rifle Association (NRA) is considered one of the most powerful political organizations in America, capable of fighting off meaningful gun control measures, in part, because of the millions the gun lobby pours into politics. Observers have mostly focused on the NRA’s campaign contributions and express advocacy for candidates in congressional elections, but the gun group is also a force on the state level.
By one measure at least, the NRA is significantly upping its focus on state politics. In 2015, the organization contributed increased amounts to political groups focused on electing officials at the state level, giving a combined $441,510 to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA – $103,860), the Republican Governors Association (RGA – $192,650), and the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC – $145,000). The sum is almost double what the NRA contributed to the three groups in 2014.
The NRA significantly increased its contributions to the RSLC in particular, giving $134,255 more in 2015 than in 2014. Contributions to the RAGA and the RGA increased by $24,790 and $55,850, respectively. Though the NRA has contributed to Democratic groups in the past, the gun group has only given money to Republican-aligned groups since 2013.
As CREW previously pointed out in complaints filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the NRA has routinely failed to disclose millions in political expenditures on its tax forms. The group’s handling of its contributions to these groups appears to be no different. Social welfare nonprofits like the NRA are required to disclose on their annual tax filings all payments to political organizations organized under section 527 of the tax code, like those mentioned above. But the NRA failed to report any such contributions between 2008 and 2014, despite the $1,031,550 in contributions that recipient groups have disclosed in their own filings with the IRS.
This is why CREW filed a supplement today to its past requests for the IRS to look into the NRA. As the evidence of the NRA failing to properly disclose its political spending mounts, it becomes ever more urgent for regulators to investigate the group’s false accounting. The fact that the organization refuses to disclose contributions that can be easily checked against public records only raises questions about what other information could be missing, particularly data about contributions to groups that are not required to disclose their donors.
Looking ahead, it is possible that the NRA will disclose the $441,510 it contributed to the RAGA, the RGA, and the RSLC last year when the group files its tax forms covering 2015 next November. The gun rights behemoth has, after all, recently begun disclosing more about its political activity in the face of increased scrutiny from regulators, even if its disclosures are still deficient. But if past is prologue, the gun group isn’t likely to take its transparency obligations seriously without outside pressure from watchdogs like CREW. The NRA can be sure we’ll be watching.