The ongoing investigation spearheaded by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections seems to expand in scope with each passing month.

While pursued by federal prosecutors outside of Mueller’s office, the case of Russian national Maria Butina is just the latest chapter in this long, complicated tale of international intrigue and illegal influence-peddling. It also implicates one of the nation’s highest profile nonprofits in federal crimes.

Masquerading as a gun rights activist, the 30-year old Butina ingratiated herself with high-ranking officials in the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) as well as with members of Donald Trump’s inner circle. In a plea deal last week, she admitted to working on behalf of Russian oligarch Alexander Torsion, delivering intel on major influencers in the conservative movement and Republican politicians with the assistance of U.S. citizens. Torsion ranks among Vladimir Putin’s coterie of loyalists and served as the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank until recently.

The NRA is a 501(c)(4) organization that founded a 501(c)(3) entity called the NRA Foundation in 1992.

During the last presidential election cycle, the organization spent an unusually massive amount of resources to support then candidate Trump and other GOP candidates running for federal office, dumping a staggering $54.4 million into races across the country. The organization is purportedly now in dire financial straits, taking in diminishing annual fundraising hauls that cover a mere fraction of its expenses over the past several years.

The extent of NRA and GOP officials’ knowledge of Butina’s activities is still unclear, though her plea deal with prosecutors included information pertaining to “Person 1,” widely believed to be Butina’s boyfriend Paul Erickson, who holds considerable sway at the NRA and in Republican circles in Washington, D.C.

Donors become stakeholders the minute they give funds to an organization. If NRA leaders did commit federal crimes, they have broken the trust of their donor base, who invested in the organization to pursue advocacy and educational initiatives based on their mutual interest, not engage in illegal activities for the sake of greater power and personal influence.

As the various threads of the Russia investigation converge, we will find out the extent of the NRA’s malfeasance, as well as the legal ramifications for the nonprofit’s actions.


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