Nine Democratic senators have now written the Federal Election Commission asking for an investigation into whether the National Rifle Association violated federal election laws. No, this isn't the Russia thing (at least, not that we know of): this one comes from reports that the NRA used a thinly disguised shell company to coordinate over $60 million worth of spending on Republican campaigns.
According to reporting from The Trace, the company used by the NRA, Starboard Strategic Inc., appears to be "fundamentally indistinguishable" from political consulting firm OnMessage, the consulting firm being used by many of the NRA's preferred campaigns; it's run out of the same offices, by the same people. So is that illegal?
The short answer is: it depends.
When campaigns and outside groups use a common vendor, they are required to establish a “firewall” to prevent executives and staffers working for either client from sharing information. OnMessage and Starboard have repeatedly refused to share details of any such firewall policy.
When a political consulting company is unwilling to explain to inquiring reporters the steps they have taken to avoid breaking federal law, the odds are good that they've been breaking federal law. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Dianne Feinstein and others politely requesting the FEC look into that: "It is possible that these communications allowed the campaigns to coordinate and strategically link their advertising messages and purchases in many competitive races throughout the country."
If the NRA did engage in such coordination, some large chunk of those $60 million in expenditures may also count as in-kind campaign contributions. For a look at how messy and illegal that might get, see the various offshoots of the Robert Mueller investigation, the Stormy Daniels money, and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's role in it all; for a measure of whether the FEC itself will do a damn thing about a complaint brought to their attention, however, see the FEC’s recent history of, well, not doing that.
So yeah, go figure; it looks like the NRA might have been up to some dodgy stuff these last few years. Give yourself a moment to regain your composure, everybody. We don't want anyone fainting on us here.