Yesterday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the Chair and Vice Chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) urging them to “expedite a decision on whether to formally investigate whether Russia used the National Rifle Association (NRA) to funnel foreign contributions into or provide support during the 2016 U.S. elections.”
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Donald Trump – nearly triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential race. Most of that money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors, and according to a McClatchy report from January, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.
“On May 3rd, I wrote to your offices urging further investigation of alleged Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. elections and provided my correspondence with the National Rifle Association in support of your inquiry,1 I write again today to urge the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to expedite a decision on whether to formally investigate whether Russia used the National Rifle Association (NRA) to funnel foreign contributions into or provide support during the 2016 U.S. elections.
“On July 16th, the Department of Justice (DOJ) unsealed a criminal complaint charging Maria Butina, a Russian national, with conspiracy to act as an agent of Russia in the U.S. without prior notification to the Attorney General.2 This complaint comes only days after DOJ charged twelve Russian intelligence officers for crimes that were intended to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including hacking into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
“According to the complaint, the objectives of Butina’s conspiracy include exploiting personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics and infiltrating organizations active in U.S. politics in an effort to advance the interests of Russia. An affidavit accompanying the complaint identifies a “Gun Rights Organization,” widely reported as the NRA, as the primary focus for infiltration by Butina and the Russian officials supporting her activities.
“Infiltrating the “gun rights organization” was a high priority for Russia because of the “central place and influence” it has in “a major political party” and the belief that it is the “largest sponsor of the elections to the U.S. Congress.”5 Previous public reports have also indicated that the FBI is also investigating Butina’s unindicted co-conspirator, Alexander Torshin—a sanctioned Russian official with links to money laundering and close ties to President Vladimir Putin—for potentially providing money to the NRA to help then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.6 DOJ filings also allege that Butina was routinely in contact with Torshin and members of Russia’s intelligence services, corresponded with a Russian businessman referred to as her “funder,” and sent funds to an account in Russia.”