Today, we submitted a campaign finance complaint against the NRA’s Rhode Island PAC, filed in the name of State Coordinator Sam Bell. Registered in Virginia, this PAC has never reported a single donor. Instead, the PAC reports more than $150,000 in small-dollar donations below the $100 reporting limit. We find that highly implausible.
We present very strong evidence that the money actually comes from the NRA’s national PAC. Not only is it illegal for national PACs to donate to a Rhode Island PAC (or candidate), but it is also illegal for any PAC to donate more than $1000 per annum to any other PAC. The NRA, we believe, violates both laws.
During the last legislative session, we were shocked at the level on influence the NRA has in the nominally Democratic General Assembly. Even though Rhode Island Democrats support an assault weapons ban by a margin of 86%-9%, the NRA lavishes campaign cash on the top leadership of the Democratic caucus in the General Assembly. Speaker Gordon Fox, Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello, and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio have each taken thousands of dollars from the NRA.
Now the chief Rhode Island lobbyist for the gun industry, former Speaker Bill Murphy, a famously right-wing Democrat, was another favorite of the NRA. He got more than $6,000 during his speakership. Conservative Democrat Mike McCaffrey, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over most gun legislation, has taken a total of $6,660 since 2002. In stark contrast, McCaffrey’s House counterpart, Representative Edie Ajello, a true Democrat, has never taken a penny from the gun lobby. Sadly, she is the exception, not the rule.
Money matters in politics. Top Democrats in the General Assembly are well known for aligning more closely with the national Republican Party than the national Democratic Party. They have successfully implemented many of the GOP’s policy priorities: voter suppression, tax cuts for the rich, massive austerity, and medically absurd restrictions on reproductive rights. It is rare, however, for the leadership of the General Assembly to openly flout President Obama, who made a strong personal push this year for blue states to pass sensible firearms reforms. But in Rhode Island, it was to no avail. Like John Boehner in Congress, Fox and Paiva-Weed denied the assault weapons ban a vote.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that the NRA’s illegal campaign contributions played a major role in the gun lobby’s big wins at the statehouse this year. If our complaint succeeds, our hope is the NRA will start playing by the same rules as everyone else. Maybe then we will be able to win some sensible reforms.
We would like to thank CFO Compliance for very generous pro bono assistance in drafting this complaint.