The embarrassing agreement will cover the costs NRA lawyers spent in its Freedom of Information Act suit against the FEC.
The fee follows a recent FEC decision to cough up thousands of pages that the election agency was withholding from the NRA about internal votes and other action on claims the gun group was engaged in wrongful election spending.
The agency deadlocked on charges brought by the Gabby Giffords anti-gun group against the NRA, but it also never disclosed its actions and kept the case open, making it appear to some outsiders like it didn’t take action when it had.
Today, the @FEC agreed to pay @NRA $25,000 in attorney’s fees to settle another FOIA lawsuit in which the FEC refused to hand over docs to the NRA about its own enforcement matter—a practice a federal court says violates the law.
The documents never should have been withheld. pic.twitter.com/l3vFStYDHg
— Sean Cooksey (@SeanJCooksey) August 8, 2023
Subsequently, the Giffords group sued the NRA directly, claiming it used illegal shell companies to help the campaigns of former President Donald Trump and several Republican senators. Giffords said it acted because the FEC didn’t.
The NRA argued that the internal documents would help in its defense against the Giffords suit by showing that the FEC had essentially voted to take no action.
In its initial suit, the NRA said, “The Commission’s refusal to provide such documents … is not only a direct violation of the Commission’s FOIA obligations and plaintiffs’ legal rights, but also directly harms plaintiffs’ ability to defend themselves in other pending litigation.”
Republican Commissioner Sean Cooksey, who has led the fight to make the agency more transparent, revealed the agreement in a tweet and said the FEC should never have hidden the NRA documents.
“Today, the @FEC agreed to pay @NRA $25,000 in attorney’s fees to settle another FOIA lawsuit in which the FEC refused to hand over docs to the NRA about its own enforcement matter — a practice a federal court says violates the law. The documents never should have been withheld,” he wrote.
The NRA agreed. In a statement to Secrets, Randy Kozuch, chairman of the NRA of America Political Victory Fund, said, “The NRA agrees with Commissioner Cooksey that the documents here never should have been withheld by the FEC, but we are pleased that the FEC is paying the NRA a historic $25,000 to cover costs litigating this issue.”
The $25,000 is one of the highest FOIA fines paid by the FEC.
In November, the FEC paid the campaign of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) $23,000 for refusing to turn over documents he needed to fend off a related suit from Giffords that the NRA used illegal shell companies to provide donations to him.
The refusal to close cases and hide votes is an issue that newer Republican members of the FEC have sought to change.
Just last month, a federal court said the Democratic-led practice of withholding how the FEC votes on mostly controversial issues in closed-door sessions is illegal.
Cooksey has led the fight against so-called zombie cases where the agency uses legal tactics to keep open but are technically finished.
The effort targets a power play by Democrats at the agency to keep open enforcement cases that Republicans vote against in 3-3 ties and then block the FEC from defending when the cases go to court for resolution.
By not closing enforcement cases that are essentially dead in a 3-3 tie, those involved can go to court and claim the agency isn’t doing its job, as in the Giffords vs. NRA case.
When he first sought to change the practice in 2021, Cooksey said, “If the Commission does not appear in court to defend itself in a lawsuit — a scandalous and largely unheard-of behavior — the reviewing court is left ignorant of the Commission’s action and views, and the Commission is subject to a default judgment. Meanwhile, respondents are left to their own devices to intervene and defend their positions in court.”