A recent article by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy of the Brennan Center outlined a series of straightforward questions about the NRA and the unusual revelations about its Russian donors. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law is a “nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize – and when necessary, defend – our country’s systems of democracy and justice”.
The possible connection with the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the American elections brought the story to front pages around the world and raises new questions about our ability to block foreigners or foreign governments from interfering in elections in anyway. According to the article by Torres-Spelliscy:
For such a sophisticated organization, it’s surprising that the NRA’s Torshin story keeps shifting. In late March, the NRA said it received only one contribution from a Russian – Torshin – between 2012 and 2018. It was a “life membership” of $1,000 and was not used for election-related activities. Then, in an April 10th letter to Wyden, the NRA said that it had received money from about 25 Russians (which may include U.S. citizens living in Russia), mainly for magazine subscriptions and membership dues.
Aleksandr Porfiryevich Torshin was a high-ranking member of the upper house of the Russian parliament from 2001 to 2015 and served as Chairman for a short time as well. He is now the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia and has been accused of being the key link between the Russian government and organized crime. According to Yahoo News, Torshin was “named by Spanish police as a suspected ‘godfather’ of an organised crime and money-laundering ring”. At the same time, Torshin has a relationship with pro-Trump Republicans including Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who infamously said with no reservations in the recent past that Torshin is “conservatives’ favorite Russian.”
A story last month by National Public Radio reporters Alina Selyukh and Audrey McNamara has been updated frequently since to detail the strange ties between Torshin, the NRA and the Trump election campaign. Some blunt conclusions from the article include the words of NRA opponent, John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, who told NPR:
These revelations suggest that for years the NRA courted a top Putin ally who is now reportedly attracting scrutiny from the FBI. NRA leaders still haven’t explained their close relationship with Russian officials in Putin’s orbit. Until they do, people will continue to wonder what the NRA is hiding.
Clearly the potential threat of secret foreign donors in elections continues continues to haunt America, as the Brennan Center’s Torres-Spelliscy explained:
Torshin is a classic example of why our campaign finance disclosure laws are broken. Law-abiding NRA members, much less the American public, have no idea that a suspect Russian is aiding the organization. This is why a reform like the DISCLOSE Act or the Honest Ads Act is needed.
Ultimately, an entity with subpoena power can resolve the mystery of whether any substantial money from Russia was funneled through the NRA in 2016. That will require more than polite inquiries from the Senator from Oregon. It will take an investigation by the FBI or possibly the Special Counsel’s office. There could well be nothing here. Or it could be a crime scene.