Gun Control Lobby Claims McCain Insider Had Ties to NRA Spy Op

The NRA allegedly hired a spy to pose as a gun control activist.


August 19, 2008— -- A Republican political operative considered part of the McCain campaign's "kitchen cabinet" oversaw a National Rifle Association lobbying campaign that allegedly hired a spy to infiltrate gun control groups, according to Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

James Jay Baker served as executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) in the late 1990s when it allegedly hired a woman to pose as a gun control activist and funnel information back to the NRA.

A McCain campaign spokesperson said Baker was only a "high level volunteer" for the campaign.

Investigative journalism magazine Mother Jones first reported the political espionage scandal last month, naming Mary Lou Sapone.

Beginning in 1998, according to the gun control group, Sapone, using her maiden name McFate, infiltrated the gun violence prevention movement and remained extremely active in a variety of gun control groups, even sitting on the boards of some, until they say she was outed two weeks ago.

"She was one of the major players in the movement," said Helmke. "She was at every meeting possible and made you think she cared so much about the issues."

Mother Jones reported that the NRA paid the now-defunct security firm that hired Sapone to snoop, Beckett Brown International (BBI), $80,000 in a 12-month period spanning 1999 and 2000.

Baker, who is still registered as a lobbyist for the NRA, is now Managing Director of the Washington-based lobbying firm, Ogilvy Government Relations. Ogilvy has billed the NRA $90,000 so far for 2008, according to the company's financial disclosure forms, and $360,000 in 2007. Congressional lobbying disclosure reports show the NRA has paid Ogilvy $2.34 million since Baker left the NRA and joined the firm.

Gun control activists who say they are "stunned" to learn about the allegations that McFate/Sapone was a spy, are calling on McCain to take a stand against Baker whom the Brady Campaign has linked to the underhanded business of spying.

"Senator McCain describes himself as a 'straight talker' and a critic of the Washington lobbying establishment," said Helmke. "Senator McCain and his campaign need to answer whether or not they approve of this spying on victims, and whether they will ask Mr. Baker and the NRA to explain the extent of their involvement in these activities."

The McCain campaign today sought to distance itself from Baker.

A spokesman for McCain said that though Baker is on McCain's Sportsman Committee and is a high level volunteer who supports the campaign, he is not one of McCain's chief advisors.

The spokesman said that the McFate-Sapone issue has nothing to do with the candidate, adding that McCain has a stricter policy against lobbyists working on the campaign than Obama.

In March of 2007, Baker gave the maximum amount of $2,300 to McCain's campaign, and in August of 2006, he gave $1,000 to Straight Talk America, McCain's Leadership Political Action Committee.

The NRA did not return phone calls requesting comment. Neither did Baker, who did, however, tell Mother Jones that he was not aware of any infiltration of the gun control movement.

Baker's deputy director at the NRA's ILA, Patrick O'Malley, who is identified as Sapone's contact at the NRA in BBI depositions, did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Sapone's home telephone number has been disconnected and messages left on her cell phone were not returned.

Helmke said that lawyers for the Brady Campaign are still determining what kind of legal action, if any, the group can take against Sapone and the NRA.

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