Senate Democrats request IRS investigation of NRA

Senate Democrats request IRS investigation of NRA
© Greg Nash

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria Schumer calls for FDA to probe reports of contaminated baby food How Trump and Pelosi went from bad to worse MORE (D-N.Y.) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse passes bill taking aim at anonymous shell companies Senate Democrats to force vote Wednesday to overturn IRS rules on SALT deduction cap Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out MORE (D-Ore.) on Wednesday requested that the IRS investigate the National Rifle Association (NRA), after Senate Democrats last week released a report on the group's interactions with Russian nationals.

"Given this report's concerning findings and other allegations of potential violations of tax exempt law by the NRA, it is incumbent on the IRS to fully investigate the organization's activities to determine whether the NRA's tax exemption should be disallowed," Wyden and Schumer wrote in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

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Along with the letter, Wyden and Schumer transmitted to the IRS a copy of Democrats' report on the NRA, for the IRS's "use in any examinations of the NRA's activities and exempt status." 

The NRA is a tax-exempt social-welfare organization under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code. It also has affiliated entities that are tax-exempt under sections 501(c)(3) and 527 of the tax code.

The Democratic staff of the Finance Committee released a report on Friday titled "The NRA and Russia: How a Tax-Exempt Organization Became a Foreign Asset."

Wyden and Schumer said in their letter that the report confirms "extensive interactions" between Maria ButinaMaria ButinaSenate Democrats request IRS investigation of NRA Senate Democrats say top NRA officials knew about Kremlin ties State Department's top arms control official leaving MORE, Alexander Torshin and the NRA that had been cited by the Department of Justice. Butina is a Russian national who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent, and Torshin is a Russian official with whom Butina is widely understood to have worked.

"These findings raise questions about whether certain NRA activities violated the organization's social welfare requirements," Wyden and Schumer wrote. "Specifically, in addition to multiple meetings between Russian individuals and NRA officials that took place within the U.S., NRA officials and donors met with a number of Russian companies, government officials and oligarchs closely connected to the Kremlin during the 2015 trip to Moscow."

Wyden and Schumer also said that the staff report raises questions about whether the NRA used tax-exempt resources for activities that are not tax-exempt. And the senators said it's important for the IRS to take actions to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections.

"In light of the continued efforts of Russia to undermine American democracy, IRS must use its full authority to prevent foreign adversaries from again exploiting tax-exempt organizations to undermine American interests," Wyden and Schumer wrote.

William A. Brewer III, a lawyer for the NRA, said in a statement Wednesday that Democrats' examination of the NRA was politically motivated.

“Predictably, the report by Senate Finance Committee Democrats is being used to justify yet another politically motivated investigation into the NRA. This partisan investigation was fueled by unfounded allegations obviously driven by the Minority’s dislike of the NRA’s political point of view," Brewer said. "The exercise should raise concerns about an abuse of government power and waste of taxpayer funds. Fortunately, for the NRA and all advocacy groups, political speech is protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution.”

Brewer also said that the NRA's "financials are audited and its tax filings are verified by one of the most reputable firms in the world." 

A spokesman for the NRA said in a statement last week that the 2015 Moscow trip mentioned in Democrats' report was not an official NRA activity.

Senate Republicans have also taken issue with the Democratic report on the NRA, with the Finance Committee's GOP staff publishing its own report that found "no wrongdoing by the NRA or its officials that would reasonably call into question the NRA’s tax-exempt status, based on the documents provided to the Committee." 

The New York and District of Columbia attorneys general are conducting their own investigations about whether the NRA is complying with state tax laws. 

The IRS and the NRA press office did not immediately respond to requests for comment to The Hill about Senate Democrats' call for an IRS investigation.

Updated at 3:07 p.m.