TPM Interview: The Brown Grad Student That Chased the NRA Out of Rhode Island
Sam Bell is in the third year of a PhD program in geology at Brown University. Geology as in rocks. But Bell also moonlights as the the state coordinator of The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, the state affiliate of the 10-year-old Progressive Democrats of America. And in his work with The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, Bell was instrumental to the investigation that ultimately led to the National Rifle Association paying the second largest campaign finance fine in the state’s history.
Last year, Bell and his group started digging into the financial relationship between the NRA’s state-level political action committee, which over the previous decade had given tens of thousands of dollars to Rhode Island lawmakers, and the NRA’s national PAC, known as the NRA Political Victory Fund. What Bell and his associates found led them to file a complaint with the state’s Board of Elections, alleging a number of serious campaign finance violations. In apparent response, the NRA last year quietly dissolved its Rhode Island PAC. Then, earlier this year, news came that the pro-gun group had reached a settlement with the state, and agreed to pay a $63,000 fine — officially for not creating a separate bank account for money the state PAC received from the larger national PAC.
In an interview with TPM this week, Bell explained how his interest in science led him to politics.