By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – A Missouri lawmaker wants to raffle off a an AR-15 assault rifle to raise campaign money.
The raffle raises obvious questions about discretion and sensitivity. It may miss some legal targets, as well. It’s the same model gun used two weeks ago in the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed and 58 were hurt. James Eagan Holmes, 24, is charged in the shootings.
Missouri law does not prohibit transfer of firearms, said Nanci Gonder, spokesman for Attorney General Chris Koster. But the state does have a clear law when it comes to raffles and sweepstakes – only organizations recognized as charitable or religious by the Internal Revenue Service can hold them.
Gonder told Missouri Watchdog she doesn’t know whether anyone has tested that designation, and no one at the IRS could be reached for comment. Charitable groups organize under 501(c)3 of the federal tax code; political committees organize under section 527.
The IRS description of a 501(c)3 organization specifically prohibits the group from trying to “influence legislation” or to “participate in the campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
McCaherty plans to hold the drawing during a fundraiser Aug. 27 in Fenton. An invitation to the event on his campaign website says he plans to sell 200 tickets for $25 each.
He did not return calls from Missouri Watchdog for comment.
Steve Marx, spokesman for the St. Louis-area Gateway Civil Liberties Alliance, told Watchdog prizes such as guns are common in Missouri raffles.
“We do that all the time to raise money for our political action platform,” he said. “There are several groups who do it that way. It’s a good way to raise money.”
Marx said his organization often draws three names, in case the winner can’t pass a background check. Federal law prevents violent felons from owning firearms.
“You have to be eligible for the guy to receive it or you run amuck of the law,” Marx said.
It’s not clear if McCaherty, who was elected in 2010, also plans to draw multiple names.
Gonder told Watchdog violations of the Missouri raffle law would be handled locally.
“There’s no enforcement mechanism for our office under that law,” she said.
The AG’s website defines a raffle as “a game in which a participant buys a ticket for a chance at a prize, with the winner determined by a random drawing to take place at a location and date printed on the ticket.”
It describes raffles and sweepstakes as “popular money-making efforts.”
Gonder says people who ask about raffles are told they could face civil and criminal penalties if they fail to meet the proper federal designation. The severity of those penalties is unclear.
“It would depend on the specific area of the law that the local jurisdiction uses,” she said.
McCaherty’s camp closed ranks after the Sunlight Foundation wrote about the raffle. He emailed supporters asking they avoid the media, and that he also planned to avoid news coverage of the event, which includes a dinner and musical entertainment at the restaurant Andre’s West.
He expressed sympathy for the shooting victims while touting gun rights.
“There is no way for the government to make everyone safe,” McCaherty wrote. “If we outlaw everything that can hurt someone we would have nothing left.”