The NRA, Russia and Campaign-Finance Reform


The National Rifle Association is finished answering questions. That’s what the organization told Senator Ron Wyden last week in a letter complaining about Wyden’s “time-consuming and burdensome” inquiries into the NRA’s ties to Russians.

That answer isn’t good enough. The NRA’s relationship with Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who has been linked both to Vladimir Putin and to Russian organized crime, is too troubling to ignore. And the group’s dismissive response to Wyden has a larger significance: It underlines the need for full disclosure of sources of political funding.  

The Treasury Department recently put Torshin on a list of sanctioned Russians. He has been an NRA member since 2012 — tweeting (in Russian) repeatedly about his affiliation with the group and attending multiple NRA functions where he socialized with the group’s top leaders. At one such meeting in 2016, he’s reported to have spoken with Donald Trump, Jr.

According to the NRA, Torshin has donated less than $1,000 to the group, and not for election purposes. The group initially said he was the only Russian to have made any contribution. It later acknowledged receiving around $2,500 from about two dozen others. (It says it checked records from 2015 onward. Efforts by Torshin and other Russians to cultivate relations with the NRA began earlier.)

Sums such as those might seem trivial, but the questions don’t stop there. The NRA uses a dark money organization, the NRA-ILA, to shield its donors from public scrutiny, and shield itself from accountability. As a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, the NRA-ILA does not have to disclose its donors despite spending more than $33 million on the 2016 election. (The NRA’s political action committee spent another $19 million in 2016.)

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