The National Rifle Association appears to have illegally coordinated its political advertising with Republican candidates in at least three recent high-profile US Senate races, according to Federal Communications Commission records. In Senate races in Missouri and Montana in 2018 and North Carolina in 2016, the gun group’s advertising blitzes on behalf of GOP candidates Josh Hawley, Matt Rosendale, and Richard Burr were authorized by the very same media consultant that the candidates themselves used—an apparent violation of laws designed to prevent independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with political campaigns.
In December, the Trace and Mother Jones reported on a similar pattern of coordination between the NRA and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, Trump and the NRA hired affiliates of the same company—National Media Research, Planning and Placement—to direct their ad spending. Employees of that firm, operating under different corporate identities, placed ads for both Trump and the NRA on television stations across the country, with the apparent goal of reinforcing each other’s message.
Representatives of National Media, operating under the name Red Eagle Media, also bought ads on behalf of the NRA in support of some of the group’s preferred Senate candidates, and simultaneously bought ads for those Senate candidates while acting as a supposedly separate entity called American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG). In at least 10 instances across the Missouri, Montana, and North Carolina races, FCC records show that ad purchases for both the NRA and the Senate campaigns were authorized by National Media chief financial officer Jon Ferrell.
Campaign finance laws bar outside groups from sharing any election-related information—including advertising strategy—with the candidates they support. While it is not illegal for independent groups and campaigns to use the same vendors, the Federal Election Commission requires consultants to prevent staffers from sharing information, usually through the creation of internal “firewalls.”
“All evidence points to coordination,” said Larry Noble, the general counsel of the FEC from 1987 to 2000, in response to a detailed description of the documents. “It’s hard to understand how you’d have the same person authorizing placements for the NRA and the candidate and it not be coordination.”
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.
In the Missouri race, where state Attorney General Josh Hawley unseated Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, the NRA flooded local TV stations with ads supportive of Hawley in the month before the election. On the CBS affiliate KOAM, which serves the southwest part of the state, the NRA paid for almost 70 ads that aired during the first half of October.