HELENA — U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., has been named in a lawsuit that alleges “illegal coordination” between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and political candidates and other campaign finance law violations.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal district court in Washington D.C. on behalf of a gun control nonprofit founded by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. Giffords survived being shot in the head in 2011 while at a public outreach event.
The lawsuit alleges the NRA-ILA, their lobbying arm, took part in practices since 2014 that intended to “evade campaign finance regulations” by using shell corporations to coordinate advertising with several candidates including Rosendale.
It’s illegal for independent groups to coordinate their campaign activity with candidates in the race that they’re attempting to influence.
Rosendale specifically is accused of illegal coordination and acceptance of "excessive funds" from the NRA in 2018 when he was running for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen.Jon Tester.
The NRA contracted Starboard, a production company, to make political advertising for them. Meanwhile, the Rosendale campaign contracted a production company called OnMessage for their advertising in 2018. The suit alleges that Starboard and On Message are functionally the same entity, being led by the same people and located at the same address.
An audio-recording, obtained by the news website The Daily Beast in 2018, had Rosendale saying that he spoke earlier that year with an NRA official, who told him “we’re going to be in this race.” The suit alleges “Rosendale then accurately described both the content and timing of the NRA-ILA’s purportedly “independent” pro-Rosendale advertisements, even though the ads were not disseminated until weeks later.
The suit further alleges that in at least one instance the same employee placed advertisements for both NRA-ILA and Matt Rosendale for Montana with the same Montana TV station.
MTN reached out to Rosendale and the NRA for comment on the allegations in the new lawsuit, but emails were not immediately returned. In 2018, the congressman and the NRA told MTN News the charges are false, and that no such coordination occurred.
Jack Ballard, a Democrat running for the congressional district in eastern Montana with the intent to unseat Rosendale, released the following statement on the lawsuit against the NRA and Rosendale:
“For several years members and law-abiding gun owners across the country have been disgusted by the corruption in the NRA, a once-respected firearms organization. If, as this lawsuit alleges, Rep. Rosendale illegally coordinated with the NRA on his campaign, both are guilty of flaunting election laws and undermining democracy. These actions are an insult to gun owners who follow the law and all Montanans who, like me, believe in the Second Amendment and clean elections.
“Maybe the NRA’s fashion-loving leader, Wayne LaPierre, got Rosendale a custom suit out of the $300,000 in members money that was wasted.”
A Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint was filed against the Rosendale campaign for the alleged coordination and acceptance of “excessive funds,” but the complaint was later dismissed by the FEC.
Campaign Legal Center said the Giffords organization sued after the FEC failed to take action against the allegations.
The lawsuit seeks an order preventing the NRA from taking similar actions in future elections and to pay a penalty of up to $35 million.