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NRA claims it didn't use foreign funds for election spending

Posted at 1:32 PM, Mar 27, 2018

The National Rifle Association insisted it did not use foreign funds for election-related purposes, even as the group acknowledged it accepts money from foreign donors, new letters from the group show.

The NRA has faced a swirl of questions about whether foreign money could have been funneled through the group and used to boost the Trump campaign. The scrutiny has largely focused on the role of Alexander Torshin, a prominent Russian banker who is close to Putin and has spent years cultivating a relationship with the upper ranks of the NRA.

The NRA went all in for Trump in 2016, spending more than $30 million to back his candidacy. That's more than the NRA spent on all of its races combined -- presidential, House and Senate -- in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

There were a number of reports about efforts on Torshin's behalf to connect with Trump's team in 2016, in some instances via the NRA. McClatchy also reported in January that the FBI was investigating whether Torshin used the NRA to illegally provide funds to boost Trump.

The NRA has denied any contact from the FBI, but Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has been pressing the gun rights group for additional information about its finances.

"Can you categorically state that your organizations have never, wittingly or unwittingly, received any contributions from individuals or entities acting as conduits for foreign entities or interests?" Wyden asked in a letter in early March.

The NRA's secretary and general counsel John Frazer insisted in a mid-March response that the NRA takes pains to ensure money from foreign nationals isn't injected into political spending.

"While we do receive some contributions from foreign individuals and entities, those contributions are made directly to the NRA for lawful purposes," Frazer wrote. "Our review of our records has found no foreign donations in connection with a United States election, either directly or through a conduit."

While it's not illegal for the NRA to accept contributions from foreign donors, the group would run afoul of the law if that money were used for electioneering purposes. The NRA's political action committee, the NRA Political Victory Fund, is required to report its spending to the Federal Election Commission, but the group houses a number of other accounts that aren't bound by such transparency.

While their political arm supports candidates and lobbying efforts, the NRA also spends money on other programming, such as security assessments for schools and firearms training for NRA members.

In the letter to Wyden, the NRA notes that it's legal for the organization to move money between those accounts in many instances. That makes it all the more difficult to track whether foreign funds could have ultimately been used for a political purpose.

In the letter, the NRA's general counsel said from 2015 to 2016 the NRA did not receive any significant contributions from a foreign address or drawn from a foreign financial institution.

The NRA did, however, receive donations from US subsidiaries of foreign entities and from US companies with foreign nationals at the helm. "However, none of those entities or individuals is connected with Russia, and none of their contributions were made in connection with US elections," Frazer wrote.

The NRA's latest reply, part of an ongoing back-and-forth with Wyden, invited another round of questions from the Senator.

Wyden is pressing for additional information about how the NRA spent foreign contributions and whether that money could have been aimed at influencing American audiences. He also requested information on whether any foreign individuals, including Russians, were members of the NRA's elite donor programs.