Senate Democrats ask IRS to investigate NRA’s tax-exempt status

Laura Davison

Two top Senate Democrats are pressuring the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether the National Rifle Association deserves to be a tax-exempt organization.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon sent a letter to the IRS Wednesday saying that the NRA’s contacts with Russian companies and individuals call into question whether the organization should qualify as a so-called 501(c)(4) organization that the IRS requires to be not-for-profit and operated exclusively for social welfare.

In this March 2, 2019, file photo, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at CPAC 2019. A new report by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, charges the NRA acted as a "foreign asset" for Russia in the run-up to the 2016 election. The report also said NRA leaders may have violated tax laws that prohibit use of organization resources for personal benefit. The report, based on an 18-month investigation by the finance panel's Democratic staff, found that NRA leaders "engaged in a years-long effort to facilitate the U.S.-based activities" of Russian nationals Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin.

“Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections represented an unprecedented attack on American democracy,” the senators write in the letter. “In light of the continued efforts of Russia to undermine American democracy, IRS must use its full authority to prevent foreign adversaries from again exploiting tax-exempt organizations to undermine American interests.”

The call to investigate the NRA comes after Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee released a report last week that says that the NRA paid for the travel of Russians in an ongoing relationship that allowed the foreign actors to influence the 2016 presidential election.

In this April 21, 2013 file photo, Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia.

Maria Butina, one of the Russian nationals mentioned in the report, was convicted on a felony charge of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. The report also said that NRA executives used the organization to benefit themselves.

William A. Brewer III, counsel to the NRA, said in a statement that the report was “politically motivated” and said an “avalanche of proof” confirms that the organization wasn’t involved in the activities detailed.

Groups claiming social welfare status, like the NRA, can participle in some political activity, but it can’t be their main focus, according to IRS rules. Losing its tax exemption could add to the organization’s financial troubles, which have grown in recent years as the group has been locked in expensive legal battles and executives have squabbled over spending.