The Federal Election Commission (FEC) agreed to pay $25,000 to the National Rifle Association for failing to turn over documents that were needed by the NRA to defend itself against an election lawsuit from a gun-control group.
This agreement covers the costs NRA lawyers spent in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) efforts to try to get the truth out of the FEC. This $25,000 fee is on the heels of an FEC decision to hand over thousands of pages of documents. Many of these documents have to do with internal FEC votes and other actions.
According to the documents, the FEC deadlocked 3-3 on allegations from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence against the NRA, but the FEC never disclosed its actions, which made it appear the Commission had kept the case open. This made it appear to anyone who didn’t have access to these documents that the FEC had not taken any action.
The gun-control group Giffords then sued the NRA directly. Giffords claimed the NRA used illegal shell companies to help pro-Second Amendment politicians. Giffords even said they were suing because the FEC didn’t act. This, we now know, wasn’t true.
The NRA pointed this out in its initial suit when it said, “The Commission’s refusal to provide such documents … is not only a direct violation of the Commission’s FOIA obligations and plaintiffs’ legal rights, but also directly harms plaintiffs’ ability to defend themselves in other pending litigation.”
This decision was released by a Trump appointee to the FEC. FEC Vice Chairman Sean Cooksey tweeted: “Today, the @FEC agreed to pay @NRA $25,000 in attorney’s fees to settle another FOIA lawsuit in which the FEC refused to hand over docs to the NRA about its own enforcement matter—a practice a federal court says violates the law. The documents never should have been withheld,” he wrote.
To this, Randy Kozuch, NRA-ILA executive director, said, “The NRA agrees with Commissioner Cooksey that the documents here never should have been withheld by the FEC, but we are pleased that the FEC is paying the NRA a historic $25,000 to cover costs litigating this issue.”
“The $25,000 is one of the highest FOIA fines paid by the FEC,” reported the Washington Examiner. “In November, the FEC paid the campaign of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) $23,000 for refusing to turn over documents he needed to fend off a related suit from Giffords … .”
The FEC has unlawfully withheld information like this before. Its refusal to close cases and hide votes is something Republicans have tried to change. And it has gone to court over this practice. In July, a court ruled that the practice of withholding how the FEC votes in closed-door sessions is illegal.
In 2021, Cooksey said, “If the Commission does not appear in court to defend itself in a lawsuit—a scandalous and largely unheard-of behavior—the reviewing court is left ignorant of the Commission’s action and views, and the Commission is subject to a default judgment. Meanwhile, respondents are left to their own devices to intervene and defend their positions in court.”
This is another way for some to weaponize the federal government against political opponents of some. This time, it has gone public, and so the NRA is no longer being left at a disadvantage before a gun-control group.