The Federal Election Commission has launched an investigation to determine if the National Rifle Association accepted illegal contributions from Russian nationals or organizations to support President Donald Trump’s campaign, Politico reports.
The FEC does not comment on ongoing investigations, but an NRA attorney told aides for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that the gun lobbying group was already “answering questions about possible Russian donations as part of an FEC inquiry,” according to a statement from Wyden’s office provided to Politico.
It’s illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.
The preliminary probe follows a complaint from the American Democracy Legal Fund. The ADLF called on the FEC to investigate “whether the NRA violated federal law by taking illegal contributions from foreign nationals in connection with the 2016 presidential election and violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971,” according to the complaint.
Brad Woodhouse, ADLF treasurer, told Politico he received confirmation from the FEC that it had launched a preliminary investigation into the organization’s complaint.
McClatchy reported in January that the FBI was investigating if Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was funneling money to the NRA for the Trump campaign. Torshin, a lifetime member of the NRA, reached out to members of the Trump campaign through the organization, according to McClatchy. He also hosted dinners for NRA executives during a trip to Moscow in 2015.
The NRA spent a record amount on 2016 elections, including $21 million to back Trump and $14 million to attack Hillary Clinton.
Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and ranking member of the Finance Committee, has also been looking into any links between Russian funds to the Trump campaign funneled through the NRA, and has sent letters to the gun lobbying group seeking information.
“I am specifically troubled by the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries may have circumvented laws designed to prohibit foreign meddling in our elections by abusing the rules governing tax exempt organizations,” Wyden wrote to the NRA in early February.
The NRA responded that, as a “longstanding policy to conform with federal election law, the NRA [does] not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections.”
Wyden followed up with several specific questions, including requesting the identities of NRA members who are Russian nationals, and information about how donors and donations are vetted.