Lawsuit claims Rosendale, NRA conspired illegally

Rosendale urges federal court to dismiss the case, saying Giffords lacks standing

By: - March 12, 2022 9:20 am

U.S. president Donald Trump (L) looks on as Matt Rosendale (R) speaks during a campaign rally at Four Seasons Arena on July 5, 2018 in Great Falls, Montana. President Trump held a campaign style ‘Make America Great Again’ rally in Great Falls, Montana with thousands in attendance. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Montana’s lone Representative in the United States House is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit against him while not necessarily disputing allegations that he coordinated against the law with the National Rifle Association as it provided nearly $400,000 in funding to him.

Instead, Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale told a Washington, D.C., court that a gun-control group lacks standing to bring the lawsuit against him in the first place.

Rosendale is accused of violating federal election law, along with Sen. Josh Hawley and former President Donald J. Trump, by working with the NRA and a marketing firm directly to benefit his campaign, but not reporting it. Giffords, the group named after former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in an Arizona grocery store, has said that the illegal campaign coordination not only violated federal law, but gave Rosendale an advantage of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported promotion that wasn’t allowed to other candidates.

NRA ‘scheme’

In a “scheme” outlined in federal court filings, Giffords said that two NRA affiliates working with Trump, Hawley and Rosendale individually combined to make as much as $35 million in “illegal, excessive, and underreported” campaign contributions during the 2014, 2016, and 2018 election cycle, including more than $25 million to Trump.

However, the suit alleges that this same operation contributed $383,196 to Rosendale when he challenged U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in 2018.

The suit claims that these campaigns coordinated with NRA through an agency set up to look like separate political consultants and media companies, one of which worked for candidates and the other for the NRA. However, those companies were run by the same people from the same address. And, coordinating together, the NRA-backed candidates, which included Rosendale, got the benefit of huge donations that went unreported.

Giffords filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission, a commission made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The commission was unable to come to an agreement on the claims, neither having a majority that would pursue the complaint or dismiss it, leading a federal judge to order the FEC to make a determination. When the FEC still couldn’t make a decision within a 30-day time period ordered by the judge, the court allowed the group to file suit.

In response to the lawsuit, Rosendale doesn’t dispute Giffords’ allegation, rather filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit saying the Giffords group lacks standing in the case because it was not harmed by the action.

“Rosendale himself publicly indicated his campaign was coordinating advertising with the NRA,” the court briefing reads. “At a July 18, 2018, fundraiser in Washington, D.C., Rosendale stated that NRA-IL’s political director, Chris Cox, had told him that the group would be making expenditures supporting Rosendale. Rosendale then accurately described both the content and timing of NRA-ILA’s purportedly ‘independent’ pro-Rosendale advertisements, even though the ads were not disseminated until weeks later.”

Rosendale asks courts to dismiss

Attorneys for Rosendale argue that the suit should be tossed for a number of reasons, including that Giffords is not a candidate or candidate campaign committee.

“Plaintiff does not compete with the candidate campaign committee Defendant Matt Rosendale for Montana,” court briefs said. “Plaintiff’s participation in the political process is too attenuated and speculative to constitute a sufficient injury-in-fact. Third, (Giffords) cannot invoke, as Plaintiff’s own injury, a purported competitive harm to some other non-party candidate.”

They also said that Giffords has not shown how the money spent by the NRA translated to swaying voters.

“Even if the transfer enriched the campaign, (Giffords) has not suggested how this money was used to influence public opinion,” the court response said. “Whether Matt Rosendale for Montana gained a competitive advantage over voters because of the alleged campaign-finance violations depends on the unpredictable choices and actions of voters – and thus is too speculative to constitute injury-in-fact.”

Giffords has responded in court filings that the organization serves a similar role as the NRA insofar as it supports candidates that align with its belief and the NRA and politicians who use this scheme have an unfair and possibly illegal advantage.

“(The NRA) illegal contribution to Rosendale and other federal candidates injure Giffords as political competitor of Rosendale, forcing Giffords to compete on an illegally structured political playing field where its political competitors fundraise and spend outside the limits set by the Federal Election Campaign Act…Ultimately, there is no way for Giffords to obtain the same benefits the NRA defendants have accrued without violating the law.”

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.