A Senator Presses the NRA for Information on the Gun Lobby Mole


So far the National Rifle Association’s reaction to the Mother Jones investigation that revealed that a NRA-connected mole had penetrated the gun control community for 15 years has been nothing but silence. No matter which media outfit asks the gun lobby for a comment–ABC News, Associated Press, Mother Jones–the NRA declines to say anything. It just refuses to explain its connection to Mary Lou Sapone, the self-described “research consultant” who infiltrated various gun control groups under the name of Mary McFate. As we first reported, a onetime business associate of Sapone said during a deposition that the NRA was a client for Sapone.

Why won’t the NRA speak? Can anyone compel it to respond to the Sapone story?

Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, is the first in Congress to give it a try. On Thursday, he sent a letter to John Sigler, the president of the NRA:

I write regarding Mother Jones‘ recent expose of a reported National Rifle Association (NRA) operative who infiltrated a number of gun violence prevention organizations. This story contains serious allegations and I urge you to address them quickly.

According to Mother Jones, Mary McFate spent more than a decade rising through the ranks at several gun violence prevention organizations, including CeaseFire PA, Freedom States Alliance and States United to Prevent Gun VIolence. At the same time, however, McFate–going by the name Mary Lou Sapone–reportedly was a paid “research consultant” for the NRA. As a result, McFate/Sapone was in a position to learn about, and to report back to the NRA on, the concerns, plans and strategies of various gun violence prevention groups.

In light of these serious charges, I call upon you to immediately:

* Admit whether these charges are true or false;

* If these charges are true, disclose the precise nature of the NRA’s relationship with Mary McFate/Mary Lou Sapone, including how much she was paid, the time periods for which she received payment and the services she provided;

* Make public the names (including any aliases) of any other NRA employees, consultants, members, or volunteers who have joined gun violence prevention organizations in order to report to the NRA on their activities; and

* Denounce and discontinue the practice of asking or encouraging NRA employees, consultants, members and volunteers to infiltrate gun violence prevention groups.

Although the NRA and I certainly have had our disagreements over the years, I hope that we can agree that the gun violence prevention debate should be based upon an open and honest exchange of ideas, not on underhanded tactics.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Lautenberg also sent copies of this letter to Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, and Chris Cox, who heads the NRA’s political arm.

Will Lautenberg receive a prompt reply of any substance? As an advocate of gun control measures, Lautenberg is indeed not one of the NRA’s favorite legislators. But can the gun lobby ignore his request for information about its involvement in the McFate/Sapone episode? And if it does tell him to get lost, what might happen next? But whatever occurs, the NRA’s silence up to now hardly allays suspicions about its role in the McFate operation.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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