It’s hardly a shock to learn that the National Rifle Association is at this point wholly in the bag for President Donald Trump. But even by the amoral standards of an organization that exists to sell instruments of death and a crooked, increasingly unhinged, xenophobic political figure, the degree to which these two cornerstones of the modern Republican Party are incestuously intertwined remains impressive.
According to an thorough investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics, President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign has been funneling money into a shell corporation which seems to exist solely for the purpose of synching advertising buys with people associated with the NRA. In other words: illegal coordination between a campaign and a lobbying group.
According to the CRP, the Trump campaign has been giving money to a group called Harris Sikes Media LLC. As CRP notes, Harris Sikes are a “low-profile limited-liability company operating with no website or public-facing facade whatsoever,” i.e., a shell company.
Harris Sikes Media then worked with ad buyers, each of whom is involved with a group of extremely closely knit consultancy firms—National Media, Red Eagle Media Group, and American Media & Advocacy Group, which all reportedly share staff and even operate out of adjacent storefronts—who reportedly pop up as contractors for (you guessed it) the National Rifle Association.
So what does this sort of alleged campaign coordination look like? Here’s just one example, according to the CRP:
As recently as October 2018, the Trump campaign and NRA made ad buys at the same local radio station within days of each other in filings that list the same individual ad buyer but with Trump’s campaign listing Harris Sikes Media as the firm and the NRA listing Red Eagle.
If the idea that the Trump campaign and the NRA are involved in some sketchy double dealing together doesn’t seem entirely farfetched to you, that’s because this isn’t even the first time they’ve been caught with both their greasy hands in the same cookie jar. According to a separate and equally labyrinthine investigation by The Trace and Mother Jones published earlier this month, many of the same figures named in CRP’s report were involved in similar, and equally potentially illegal, ad coordination between the Trump campaign and the NRA during the 2016 election.
And as the CRP notes, the NRA isn’t even the only outside group supporting Trump which been caught in a scheme like this:
The Trump campaign abruptly cut off payments to known National Media affiliates shortly after reporting scrutinizing the closely tied firms sharing addresses and employees while being paid by Trump’s campaign and a super PAC supporting him during the 2016 election. The group at issue for the payments was Rebuilding America Now, a single-candidate super PAC supporting Trump.
Rebuilding America Now was recently named in a partially redacted court filing by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller regarding a $125,000 wire transfer to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort to cover a debt he owed — a payment Manafort lied to federal investigators about, according to the filing.
During the 2016 election, Manafort dispatched two associates he hired as Trump’s campaign chair to the super PAC, potentially violating federal campaign rules that require a cooling off period.
Truly there is nothing new under the sun.