Sandy Hook families file complaint against NRA

HARTFORD — Families of those affected by by the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings on Wednesday filed an elections complaint against the National Rifle Association, charging that the NRA illegally used money from its federal political action committee to oppose Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign last year.

The complaint, which also alleges improper funding of dozens of legislative campaigns dating back to 2003, was presented to the State Elections Enforcement Commission by Carlos Soto of Stratford, whose sister, Victoria Soto, was a teacher who was killed while trying to protect her class of first-graders; by Sarah Clements, whose mother, second-grade teacher Abbey Clements, survived the shooting; by Po Murray, the mother of four former Sandy Hook School students; and others.

“I will not stand by and let the gun lobby bully us around through illegal campaign-spending practices designed to politically destroy those who might disagree with them,” said Sarah Clements. “I think we have plenty of evidence that shows the NRA is pushing people around at every level,” the 19-year-old college student said in a phone interview Wednesday. “They’re not above the law.”

The group charges that the NRA funneled about $11,000 in so-called independent expenditures to oppose Malloy last fall. Itemized expenditures included $4,000 to pay for office staff at NRA national headquarters in Virginia, according to the complaint.

The group alleges that $9,000 in federal PAC money was improperly funneled to 33 state House and Senate candidates of both policitical parties from 2003 until 2005, when the General Assembly passed the landmark ban on lobbyist contributions.

It also charges that the NRA federal PAC also made an illegal transfer of $20,794 to its Connecticut PAC in 2006, but the funds were “largely unused” until the Connecticut PAC made independent expenditures in the 2014 governor’s race without first setting up a special Connecticut account.

Murray, who has neighbors whose children were among the 20 first-graders killed in the shooting, said she became involved in the complaint when she was approached by researchers from Rhode Island whose probe into the NRA there resulted in a near-record fine against the NRA in 2014.

“We write with concern over what we believe to be major and long-standing violations of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws,” the complainants said in their complaint, a copy of which was provided to Hearst Connecticut Media. Connecticut does not have a statute of limitations on campaign-finance irregularities, but in the past, the State Elections Enforcement Commission has been reluctant to pursue allegations of older violations. State law requires political treasurers to maintain records for four years.

The NRA did not respond to two requests for comment on Wednesday. On Thursday, the NRA said the complaints are “frivolous, baseless allegations.” The NRA said the $9,000 in General Assembly contributions before the 2005 campaign finance reforms came from the Connecticut account of the NRA’s state chapter and not the federal account.

“In accordance with the law, the independent expenditure against Governor Malloy was made by our Federal PAC,” the NRA statement continued, adding that “appropriate paperwork” was filed with Connecticut election officials.

The 10-page affadavit, which under state law the SEEC can neither confirm nor deny pending the next public meeting of the commission, is also signed by Samuel W. Bell of Providence, who in January 2014, as state coordinator for ProgressiveDemocratsby Samuel W. Bell of Providence, who in January 2014, as state coordinator of Progressive Democrats, won a similar case before the Rhode Island state Board of Elections.

The board there found 65 cases of improper NRA contributions totaling nearly $164,000 that was funneled to state and local political candidates, according to the minutes of its Jan. 16, 2014, meeting. As a result, the NRA paid $63,000 in penalties, the second-largest in Rhode Island history.