WASHINGTON, D.C.—The National Rifle Association is creating its own news organization, including an Internet talk show and possibly a radio station, in an attempt to circumvent restrictions on political free speech in the months before the next election.
The NRA will seek the same legal recognition as other news organizations, but will focus its reporting on issues related to the second amendment, including attempts to publicize the positions of individual candidates. The group, which has four million members and is considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, has hired Cam Edwards, a conservative talk-show host from Oklahoma City, and will invest $1 million in launching the new venture.
According to the organization’s executive vice president Wayne Pines, “Someone needs to show the court and the politicians how absurd their speech gag on the American public is. This is an act of defiance. But it’s also in 100 percent compliance with the law.”
Recent changes to political campaign finance laws restrict the amount of soft money that can be spent on issues advertising close to elections, but exempt news organizations from those restrictions. But there is no restriction on who can own a news organization, and in the Internet age there are few obstacles to a single issue groups like the NRA starting its own news company.
The NRA plans to own a news operation “just as Disney owns ABC, just as GE owns NBC, just as Time Warner AOL owns CNN, and be the broadcast journalist equivalent of those outlets,” LaPierre told the AP. “Who’s to say they’re any more legitimate on packaging news to the American public on firearms and hunting than the National Rifle Association.
It is not clear whether other issues advocacy groups will follow the NRA’s example, but experts see little to stop them.
“The law does allow news media to editorialize and do commentary,” says Larry Noble, head of the Center for Responsive Politics and former lead attorney for the Federal Election Commission. “It’s the reason The New York Times can endorse candidates in its editorials. So in one sense they are not blazing new ground, but they are going into an area that’s still forming and about which regulations are still being developed.”