Three GOP Senate candidates, NRA may have illegally coordinated ads: report

The National Rifle Association (NRA) may have illegally coordinated political advertisements for three Republican candidates in high-profile Senate races, according to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) records released on Friday by Mother Jones and The Trace. 

GOP candidates Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer Bipartisan lawmakers to introduce bill allowing social media users to transfer data Zuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount MORE in Missouri’s 2018 race, Matt Rosendale in Montana’s 2018 race and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations McConnell introduces resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria decision Ex-CIA agent: Whistleblower's complaint 'should be considered on its merits' MORE in North Carolina’s 2016 race all used the same media consultant as the NRA for promo hits about themselves.

That appears to be a violation of law designed to prevent political campaigns from working together with private, independent groups, Mother Jones noted.

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Jon Ferrell, the chief financial officer of National Media, authorized ad purchases for both the NRA and the Senate campaigns at least 10 times, according to FCC records obtained by the outlet.

National Media representatives used the “assumed or fictitious name” Red Eagle Media to buy ads on behalf of the NRA in support of the group’s preferred Senate candidates, Mother Jones reported. Then the same group simultaneously bought ads for those Senate candidates while working under the name American Media & Advocacy Group.

Outside groups are banned from sharing any election-related information with the candidates they support. It is not illegal under campaign finance law for independent groups and campaigns to use the same consultants, but the FCC bans the staring of information.

“All evidence points to coordination,” Larry Noble, the former general counsel of the FCC, told Mother Jones. “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 Hill has reached out to the NRA for comment.

Hawley, Missouri's former attorney general, defeated Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillIranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest MORE in November. He was sworn into office earlier this month.

Records show that the NRA purchased almost 70 ads on local TV stations supporting Hawley before the election. The ads were purchased on behalf of Red Eagle Media, according to FCC records obtained by Mother Jones.

Ferrell even signed paperwork for one of the TV spots with a handwritten note stating “agent for Josh Hawley for Senate.”

Many of the ads that Ferrell purchased on behalf of the NRA closely mirror those he authorized for Hawley’s campaign, sometimes running on television just minutes apart.

The Hill has reached out to Hawley’s campaign for comment.

There was a similar pattern between Rosendale’s failed campaign to unseat Montana Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBennet reintroduces bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever Red-state Democrats worry impeachment may spin out of control MORE (D) last year.

Ferrell also signed off on purchases for both Burr’s successful 2016 Senate race against Democrat Deborah Ross and the NRA, Mother Jones reported. Burr employed National Media and the NRA employed Red Eagle but Ferrell signed off on both purchases.

National Media and Ferrell did not respond to Mother Jones’s requests for comment.