As the National Rifle Association prepares to meet for its 2019 annual convention in Indianapolis, the NRA’s senior leadership and board of directors are confronted with numerous questions about the organization’s recent management practices and financial future. In the past 18 months, a spate of investigative news reports and governmental investigations have shown the NRA to be in a state of crisis with the result being diminished influence in the legislative, political, and public arenas. Day by day, the NRA is becoming more fringe and more toxic to the Americans it has long claimed to represent.
Indeed, contrary to the NRA’s self-proclaimed image as an all-American organization for hunters and sportsmen, the organization is entangled in scandals.
The questions and allegations about the NRA include:
- The apparent collapse of the NRA’s relationship with its most significant business partner, Ackerman McQueen, including a recently filed NRA lawsuit that seeks information about potentially improper billing practices by Ackerman, and Ackerman’s response that the NRA was acting with “malicious intent”;
- Payments and other financial arrangements with executives and insiders at the NRA that resulted in millions of proceeds going to these executives and insiders;
- The NRA’s murky business and election campaign practices;
- The NRA’s ties to Russia and admitted Kremlin agent Maria Butina;
- Defections from the business community because of the growing realization that the NRA is an extremist organization;
- Filings reporting weak financials and deficits in the last two reporting years, including the startling admission that regulatory oversight in New York State “threatens the financial growth and overall trajectory of the organization”; and
- Evidence it was outspent by gun safety groups in the 2018 midterm elections.
Perhaps then, it’s no wonder that as its brand becomes increasingly toxic, the NRA’s favorability ratings are underwater for the first time in nearly 20 years. Todd C, Murray M, Dann C. Trump, master of the political insult, declines to chide Putin. NBC News, March 21, 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/trump-master-political-insult-declines-chide-putin-n858621. This report details serious questions about the NRA’s leadership and the organization’s financial health heading into the critical 2020 presidential election.
As he takes the stage in Indianapolis, the NRA’s executive vice president Wayne LaPierre will no doubt extol the NRA’s strength. Here are the NRA stories that you won’t hear from the convention floor this weekend, ones that point to potential trouble for LaPierre and the NRA.
The Collapse of the NRA’s Relationship with Longtime Partner Ackerman McQueen
The NRA has long worked with the public relations firm Ackerman McQueen to shape and brand the organization’s image. Indeed, Ackerman was reportedly vital to securing NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre’s leadership position within the NRA and reportedly serves as trusted counsel to LaPierre.Finn P, Horwitz, S. Ackerman McQueen PR Firm Has Been Behind NRA’s Provocative Ads for Decades. Washington Post, February 13, 2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/ackerman-mcqueen-pr-firm-has-been-behind-nras-provocative-ads-for-decades/2013/02/13/fedb70b4-7155-11e2-ac36-3d8d9dcaa2e2_story.html.
Among other work, Ackerman has crafted public messaging for the NRA and helped create and produce NRATVNRA News. Ackerman McQueen. Accessed on April 16, 2019. https://www.am.com/projects/nra-news-project/., and its predecessor NRA News.NRA v. Ackerman McQueen. Civil Complaint, filed April 15, 2019, paras. 9 and 13. https://www.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/NRAlawsuit041519.pdf. In 2017, the NRA’s aggregate payments to Ackerman McQueen, and its subsidiary the Mercury Group, totaled nearly $40 million aloneIbid. (12 percent of the NRA’s overall expensesSpies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra.), and financial reports indicate Ackerman McQueen has netted well-over $100 million in payments since 2012.National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990. November 5, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html; National Rifle Association. 2016 IRS Form 990. September 18, 2017. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/530116130/201722619349300507/IRS990.; National Rifle Association. 2015 IRS Form 990. November 10, 2016. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/530116130/2017_02_EO%2F53-0116130_990O_201512; National Rifle Association. 2014 IRS Form 990. September 18, 2015.https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/530116130/201532599349300503/IRS990; National Rifle Association. 2013 IRS Form 990. November 5, 2014. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/530116130/2014_11_EO%2F53-0116130_990O_201312.; National Rifle Association. 2012 IRS Form 990. September 16, 2013.https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/530116130/2013_12_EO%2F53-0116130_990O_201212. However, over the past year, as the NRA’s crises deepened, there have been several points of contention between Ackerman and the NRA.
Most notably, the NRA this month filed a lawsuit against Ackerman in Circuit Court in Alexandria, Virginia, seeking to compel Ackerman to provide records that justify its billings to the NRA.Maremont M. NRA Files Suit Against Ad Agency in Rift with Key Partner. Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/nra-files-suit-against-ad-agency-in-rift-with-key-partner-11555320601. In reporting on the lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal indicated that “[t]he NRA is concerned the ad firm may be overcharging for certain items”, including salaries for Ackerman employees.Ibid. Ackerman responded to the lawsuit saying the NRA acted with “malicious intent” and further raised questions about whether the NRA’s lawyer, William Brewer, was ethically conflicted due to familial ties to Ackerman leadership.Metzer, S. OKC Ad Agency Ackerman McQueen Sued by the NRA. The Journal Record (Oklahoma City), April 15, 2019. https://journalrecord.com/2019/04/15/okc-ad-agency-ackerman-mcqueen-sued-by-nra/.
Per reporting in The New Yorker, the NRA Board of Directors Audit Committee held an “emergency meeting” in July 2018 to discuss “whistleblowing reports” relating to vendor arrangements. The same report indicates that documentation was prepared ahead of that meeting listing concerns such as “NRA pays overbilled, deceptive, vague invoices to ‘preferred’ vendors and contractors” and “decisions are made in the best interests of vendors,” not the organization. The New Yorker also reported that internally prepared documents indicated that “about a quarter of the organization’s staff is now managed by former employees of Ackerman who have been hired by the NRA” and that this situation created “financial conflicts of interest.”Spies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra.
“NRA pays overbilled, deceptive, vague invoices to ‘preferred’ vendors and contractors”
Reports indicate that current NRA president Oliver North has a contract with Ackerman.Hakim, D. Incendiary NRA Videos Find New Critics: NRA Leaders. New York Times, Mar 11, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/us/nra-video-streaming-nratv.html. The exact details of this contract have not been publicly disclosed, although The New Yorker recently reported the contract was worth “roughly a million dollars” annually.Spies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra. When the NRA reportedly attempted to obtain detailed information about this contract from Ackerman, North reportedly refused to provide documents about the compensation without Ackerman’s approval.Maremont M. NRA Files Suit Against Ad Agency in Rift with Key Partner. Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2019.https://www.wsj.com/articles/nra-files-suit-against-ad-agency-in-rift-with-key-partner-11555320601 ; NRA v. Ackerman McQueen. Civil Complaint, filed April 15, 2019, paras. 24-28. https://www.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/NRAlawsuit041519.pdf.
Marc Owens, who for ten years headed the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt enterprises, said, “[t]he litany of red flags is just extraordinary … The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely trans gressions that I’ve ever seen. There is a tremendous range of what appears to be th e misuse of assets for the benefit of certain venders and people in control … Those facts, if confirmed, could lead to the revocation of the NRA’s tax-exempt status.”
The New York Times reported that some NRA board members are openly questioning the utility of NRATV to the organization.Hakim, D. Incendiary N.R.A. Videos Find New Critics: N.R.A. Leaders. New York Times, March 11, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/us/nra-video-streaming-nratv.html. This comes after, among other incidents, an NRATV program that drew widespread condemnation for depicting the children’s character Thomas the Tank Engine wearing a KKK hood.Melas, C. NRA TV depicts 'Thomas & Friends' characters in KKK hoods, CNN, September 14, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/13/entertainment/thomas-the-tank-engine-nra-kkk-trnd/index.html. The NRA’s lawsuit against Ackerman references this directly, saying “certain NRA stakeholders were also concerned that NRATV’s messaging—on topics far afield of the Second Amendment—deviated from the NRA’s core mission and values.”NRA v. Ackerman McQueen. Civil Complaint, filed April 15, 2019, footnote 2. https://www.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/NRAlawsuit041519.pdf.
NRA board member Joel Friedman was quoted questioning Ackerman’s role as the organization’s top vendor, especially in light of Ackerman’s refusal to provide financial documents. “It leaves you questioning, and you can come up with all these potential different scenarios as to why, but none of them are good,” Friedman said to the New York Times. “My mind goes to: Are they overcharging us? That’s one,” he added. “Two, are there things charged to us that were not part of the contract? Then, No. 3, has there been a misallocation of personnel?”Hakim, D. NRA Sues Contractor Behind NRATV. New York Times, April 15, 2019.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/15/business/nra-nratv-lawsuit.html .
Questionable Financial Arrangements and Payments to NRA Insiders
Over the past year, there have been several revelations of NRA executives and insiders involved in questionable financial transactions and/or potential financial improprieties. These issues involve millions in organizational funds and include:
- A former NRA managing director, Michael Marcellin, was paid $978,179 by an insurance company, Lockton Affinity, that conducted business with the NRA from 2016-2017.National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990, Schedule O. November 5, 2018.https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html. These payments occurred in the same years Marcellin was a highly compensated NRA executive, earning $645,899 in 2016National Rifle Association. 2016 IRS Form 990, Schedule J. September 18, 2017.https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/530116130/201722619349300507/IRS990ScheduleJ. and $713,975 in 2017National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990, Schedule J. November 5, 2018.https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html. (according to NRA regulatory filings). The NRA revealed this arrangement for the first time this year, saying the details were “inadvertently excluded” from past financial disclosures.Spies M, Cook J. NRA Pays Lavish Executive Perks Even as It Cuts Costs. The Trace, November 28, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/2018/11/nra-josh-powell-housing-allowance/. However, recent reporting indicates that the NRA Board of Directors was not aware that Marcellin was receiving income from both the NRA and Lockton Affinity.Spies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019.https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra.
- Since 2010, the NRA has reportedly paid media production company, “Under Wild Skies,” $18 millionHakim, D. Incendiary N.R.A. Videos Find New Critics: N.R.A. Leaders. New York Times, March 11, 2019.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/us/nra-video-streaming-nratv.html. , including $2,635,000 in 2017 alone.Spies, M, Cook J. NRA Pays Lavish Executive Perks Even as It Cuts Costs. The Trace, November 28, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/2018/11/nra-josh-powell-housing-allowance/. Under Wild Skies’ former-treasurer is the NRA’s executive director at the Office of Advancement, Tyler Schropp. Schropp took home a robust $622,280 salary from the NRA in 2017.National Rifle Association. 2017 Form 990, Section A, Part VII. November 5, 2018.https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html. According to reporting from the New York Times, Schropp had a stake in Under Wild Skies “until at least 2017.”Hakim, D. Incendiary N.R.A. Videos Find New Critics: N.R.A. Leaders. New York Times, March 11, 2019.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/us/nra-video-streaming-nratv.html.
- Between 2016National Rifle Association. 2016 IRS Form 990, Schedule G, Part I. September 18, 2017.https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/530116130/201722619349300507/IRS990ScheduleG. and 2017National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990, Schedule G, Part I. November 5, 2018.https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html., the NRA paid $1,395,000 to HWS Consulting Inc., a firm whose owner, Wayne Sheets, is the NRA Foundation’s longtime executive director.Steven E. Nelson Sportsman of the Year. Mzuri Wildlife Foundation, Accessed on April 19, 2019.https://mzuri.org/wayne-sheets/. The NRA admitted that the NRA Foundation had “inadvertently omitted” Mr. Sheets as an executive officer from its previous regulatory filings.Maremont M. “NRA Awarded Contracts to Firms with Ties to Top Officials”, Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2018.https://www.wsj.com/articles/nra-awarded-contracts-to-firms-with-ties-to-top-officials-1543590697. Reporting from The New Yorker indicates that HWS Consulting’s contract stipulated a “base monthly consulting fee” to be paid “regardless of the number of consulting hours provided by the Consultant” and that Sheets received an additional two hundred and forty thousand dollars in expense reimbursements.Spies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019.https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra.
- In 2017, the NRA Foundation paid $3,065,031 to Crow Shooting Supply, a company owned by former NRA president Pete Brownell.Spies, M, Cook J. “A Top NRA Executive’s Trail of Business Flops and Unpaid Debt”, The Trace, October 1, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/2018/10/nra-josh-powell/. The foundation has reportedly been paying Crow Shooting Supply since 2008. (Brownell has owned the company since 2011.)Maremont M. “NRA Awarded Contracts to Firms with Ties to Top Officials”, Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2018.https://www.wsj.com/articles/nra-awarded-contracts-to-firms-with-ties-to-top-officials-1543590697.
- In 2016, the NRA hired Josh Powell as chief of staff, an executive position that paid him total compensation in 2017 of $779,066National Rifle Association, 2017 IRS Form 990, Section A, Part VII. November 5, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html.. Powell was previously business partners with Pete BrownellSpies, M, Cook J. “A Top NRA Executive’s Trail of Business Flops and Unpaid Debt”, The Trace, October 1, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/2018/10/nra-josh-powell/., who was in line to become the NRA president. After investigative reporting in 2018 revealed Powell’s history of financial mismanagement in the jobs he held before joining the NRAIbid and that the NRA was reimbursing him for over $100,000 per year in personal expensesSpies, M, Cook J. NRA Pays Lavish Executive Perks Even as It Cuts Costs, The Trace, November 28, 2018. ,a href="https://www.thetrace.org/2018/11/nra-josh-powell-housing-allowance/">https://www.thetrace.org/2018/11/nra-josh-powell-housing-allowance/., Powell was reportedly reassigned within the NRA.Spies M. “NRA Sidelines Executive After Revelations of Insider Deals and Lavish Expenses”, The Trace, December 3, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/rounds/nra-josh-powell-sidelined/. According to reporting from The New Yorker, Powell’s wife worked on the NRA’s account as an outside consultant at McKenna & Associates.Spies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019.https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra.
- Reports indicate that current NRA president Oliver North has a lucrative contract with the NRA’s longtime media consultants Ackerman McQueen.Hakim, D. Incendiary NRA Videos Find New Critics: NRA Leaders. New York Times, March 11, 2019.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/us/nra-video-streaming-nratv.html. In addition, public reporting indicates that NRATV personalities Dana Loesch and Colion Noir also have contracts with Ackerman as well.Spies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019.https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra.
- Revelations in The New Yorker that NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre has an arrangement that “provides for consulting services and personal appearances upon the end of his employment, at an annual rate that starts at his currently contracted final base salary and is later reduced” – effectively serving as a salary for life.Ibid.
The New York Times reported that the NRA has 41 employees, contractors, vendors or consultants that have family relationships to others connected to the NRA.
Due to these and other financial arrangements that would seem at odds with the NRA’s status as a non-profit charitable organization, Everytown for Gun Safety filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service calling for an investigation of the NRA.
You can read Everytown’s IRS complaint here.
Investigations of NRA Business/Campaign Practices
In addition to the Russia-related inquiries, the NRA is facing scrutiny over business practices and campaign spending during both the 2016 presidential campaign and multiple congressional campaigns:
NRA’s “Carry Guard” Insurance Program: The NRA’s “Carry Guard” insurance program, which promised to cover an individual’s legal expenses if they shoot someone and claim self-defense, was unveiled at the 2016 NRA convention with much fanfare but has subsequently become a regulatory debacle.
At least five complaints have been filed with the Federal Election Commission against the NRA alleging improper coordination of campaign spending.
Public reporting indicates that the NRA has been entangled in various state regulatory inquiries about the legality of the Carry Guard insurance product that it promotes.
The inquiries are reportedly focused on whether the Carry Guard product, which provides gun-owner liability insurance, violates state insurance laws by insuring criminal conduct; and whether entities promoting Carry Guard improperly solicited insurance sales under state law.Palmer E. Is the NRA Going Bankrupt? Groups Claims It Will Soon Be Unable to Exist Due to Financial Difficulties. Newsweek, August 4, 2018. https://www.newsweek.com/nra-going-bankrupt-group-claim-it-will-soon-be-unable-exist-due-financial-1057187; Kohrman M, NRA’s Carry Guard Insurance Violates New York Law; Broker Agrees to $7 Million Fine, The Trace, May 2, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/rounds/nra-carry-guard-insurance-violates-new-york-law/.
The NRA’s attorney was quoted saying that regulatory oversight in New York State regarding the Carry Guard product “threatens the financial growth and overall trajectory of the organization”Jacey Fortin, “NRA Suit Claims Cuomo’s ‘Blacklisting’ Has Cost It Millions of Dollars,” New York Times, August 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/04/nyregion/nra-broke-financial-lawsuit.html. ;
Some of the NRA’s partners in this venture—Lockton Affinity, Illinois Union, and Lloyd’s of London—have already settled with regulators in New York State and/or Washington State for more than an aggregate of $13 million.Blosfield E. “Lloyd’s Underwriters Agree to Settle Charges Related to NRA-Branded Insurance”, Insurance Journal, December 21, 2018. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/east/2018/12/21/512805.htm.
NRA’s Campaign Spending: At least five complaints have been filed with the Federal Election Commission against the NRA alleging improper coordination of campaign spending.CLC Complaint Against the NRA. Campaign Legal Center, July 16, 2018. https://campaignlegal.org/document/clc-complaint-against-nra; CLC, Giffords Call on FEC to Investigate NRA Coordination with Rosendale Campaign. Campaign Legal Center, September 17, 2018. https://campaignlegal.org/press-releases/clc-giffords-call-fec-investigate-nra-coordination-rosendale-campaign; Bergquist G. Complaint alleges unlawful coordination between Hawley campaign, NRA PAC. KRCG, October 23, 2018. https://krcgtv.com/news/local/complaint-alleges-unlawful-coordination-between-hawley-campaign-nra-pac; Allison, B, Mosendz, P. Trump Campaign, NRA Illegally Coordinated Ads, Groups Allege, Bloomberg News, December 7, 2018. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-07/trump-campaign-nra-illegally-coordinated-ads-group-tells-fec; Murphy B. Burr’s 2016 campaign coordinated with NRA fund, liberal group contends in complaint. The News & Observer, January 25, 2019. https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article224978205.html. These complaints focus on spending in the 2016 Presidential election and various U.S. Senate races in 2014Campaign Legal Center, Complaint, Federal Election Commission, July 16, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4600152-7-16-18-NRA-FEC-Complaint-Final-1.html., 2016, and 2018, and build upon investigative journalism that revealed media buyers for the NRA’s purportedly independent expenditures were simultaneously doing similar work on behalf of the campaigns they were supporting, including President Trump’s campaign.Raasch C. New Report Alleges Illegal Ad-Buying Coordination Between NRA and Hawley Senate Campaign, St. Louis Post Dispatch, January 13, 2019. https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/new-report-alleges-illegal-ad-buying-coordination-between-nra-and/article_da164ac3-ed85-5f16-8d71-24a8d792fcee.html. Federal election law bars campaigns and independent groups from coordinating their spending.
In February 2019, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Jamie Raskin announced they are seeking information from various media companies associated with the NRA’s advertising in these races to determine if any illegalities occurred.Spies M. NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre Targeted in Congressional Inquiry Into Illegal Campaign Coordination, The Trace, February 7, 2019. See also https://raskin.house.gov/media/press-releases/raskin-whitehouse-demand-answers-nra-alleged-campaign-finance-law-violations.
Investigations of NRA Ties to Russia
Since early 2017, the NRA has been plagued by questions about its relationships with figures close to the Russian government.Mak T. “The Kremlin and GOP Have a New Friend—and Boy, Does She Love Guns”, Daily Beast, February 23, 2017.https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-kremlin-and-gop-have-a-new-friendand-boy-does-she-love-guns. Indeed, dating back nearly a decade, Russian politician and central banker Alexander Torshin and Russian gun-rights activist Maria Butina cultivated relationships within the highest ranks of the NRA, including trips to consecutive NRA conventions and working directly with NRA officials to coordinate an NRA delegation trip to Russia in 2015.Helderman RS, Hamburger T. Guns and religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin’s Russia, Washington Post, April 30, 2017.https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-the-republican-right-found-allies-in-russia/2017/04/30/e2d83ff6-29d3-11e7-a616-d7c8a68c1a66_story.html.
In December 2018, Maria Butina pled guilty to conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia.
The NRA’s explanations of its Russian connections have been publicly contradicted on multiple occasions. For one, the NRA’s answers on questions of Russian donations to the organization have been inconsistent, although the NRA ultimately admitted “two dozen additional contributions from Russian donors.”Madden P, Mosk M. NRA discloses two dozen additional contributions from Russian donors. ABC News, April 11, 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/nra-discloses-additional-contributions-russian-donors/story?id=54395292. What’s more, while the NRA has claimed that executive vice president Wayne LaPierre disapproved of the NRA’s 2015 delegation trip to Russia, internal emails from NRA officials seem to contradict that stance. Specifically, emails reportedly have shown that NRA staff helped plan the tripMadden P, Mosk M. NRA says 2015 Moscow trip wasn’t ‘official.’ Emails, photos reveal gun group’s role. ABC News, January 30, 2019. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/nra-discloses-additional-contributions-russian-donors/story?id=54395292. (while Mother Jones reports “[a] source close to [former NRA president Pete] Brownell maintains that at the time of the Moscow trip, Brownell did not hear that LaPierre opposed the visit. ‘It was presented as an NRA-related trip,’ the source said, adding that ‘NRA staff was involved in the planning’ of the travel.’”Friedman D. Investigators Are Zeroing in on Top NRA Leaders’ Russia Ties—and Challenging the Gun Group’s Story, Mother Jones, February 1, 2019. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/02/nra-russia-investigations-david-keene-pete-brownell/.).
These and other unanswered questions have been a focus of multiple ongoing investigations, including in the House of Representatives and Senate.Nass D. A Guide to Every Known Investigation of the NRA, The Trace, February 27, 2019. https://www.thetrace.org/2019/02/nra-investigations-russia-campaign-finance/.
In January 2018, McClatchy reported that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office was investigating whether then-deputy governor of Russia’s central bank Alexander Torshin funneled money to the NRA to help the Trump campaign.Stone P, Gordon G. FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump, McClatchy DC, January 18, 2018. https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article195231139.html. A year later, it was reported that the Special Counsel’s office had been asking about the NRA’s relationship with the Trump campaign as recently as late-2018.Murray S. Mueller wants to know about 2016 Trump campaign's ties to NRA. CNN, January 22, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/22/politics/mueller-nunberg-trump-campaign-nra/index.html. It is unclear whether this inquiry has been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for additional investigation.
In December 2018, Maria Butina pled guilty to conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. Her plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia details how she cultivated her relationship with a “Gun Rights Organization,” widely reported to be the NRA, as a key component of her campaign to influence American politics.United States v. Maria Butina, Plea Agreement, US Department of Justice, December 6, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5626096-US-v-Butina-Plea-Agreement-and-SOF-EXECUTED.html#document/p2. Butina is slated to be sentenced on April 26, 2019Harris AM. Maria Butina, Unregistered Russian Agent, to Be Sentenced April 26. Bloomberg, March 28, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-28/butina-unregistered-russian-agent-to-be-sentenced-on-april-26., the opening day of the NRA’s 2019 annual convention.
In September 2018, Paul Erickson (Butina’s longtime boyfriend and a conservative activist linked to the NRA) reportedly received a target letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia informing him that prosecutors were considering indicting him for acting as an unregistered foreign agent.Woodruff B, Banco E. Feds Target Butina’s GOP Boyfriend as Foreign Agent. Daily Beast, December 5, 2018. https://www.thedailybeast.com/feds-target-butinas-gop-boyfriend-as-foreign-agent. Erickson has since been indicted in an unrelated fraud case by the U.S. Attorney in South Dakota.Johnson C, Ewing P. Paul Erickson, Boyfriend Of Russian Agent Maria Butina, Charged In Fraud Scheme. NPR, February 6, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/02/06/687417296/paul-erickson-boyfriend-of-russian-agent-maria-butina-charged-in-fraud-scheme.
Starting in February 2018, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a series of letters to the NRA regarding the organization’s ties to Russia.Letter to NRA Treasurer Wilson H. Phillips, Jr. Senator Ron Wyden, February 2, 2018. https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/020218%20NRA%20Russia%20Letter.pdf. After publicly disclosing seemingly contradictory information, the NRA admitted to accepting more than two dozen contributions totaling $2,512.51 from people associated with Russian addresses. Madden P, Mosk M. NRA discloses two dozen additional contributions from Russian donors. ABC News, April 11, 2018.https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/nra-discloses-additional-contributions-russian-donors/story?id=54395292. The NRA ended the months-long correspondence, declaring it would “respectfully decline to engage” further.Letter to Senator Ron Wyden. NRA Secretary and General Counsel John C. Frazer, April 10, 2018.https://www.scribd.com/document/376118036/April-10-Letter-from-NRA-to-Sen-Ron-Wyden#fullscreen&from_embed.
In November 2018, the Daily Beast reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee had requested documents from the NRA regarding its connections to Russia, including its 2015 delegation trip to Moscow.Woodruff B, Ackerman S. Senate Intelligence Wants Documents on NRA’s Russia Trip. Daily Beast, November 2, 2018.https://www.thedailybeast.com/senate-intelligence-wants-documents-on-nras-russia-trip. A witness reportedly interviewed by the committee told NBC News that he was asked questions about the NRA’s relationship with Russia as recently as January 2019.Tur K. Senate intel committee grilling ex-Trump campaign members in Russia probe. NBC News, January 11, 2019.https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/senate-intel-committee-grilling-ex-trump-campaign-members-russia-probe-n957906.
In January 2019, the House Oversight Committee reportedly requested documents from the NRA and the White House regarding National Security Advisor John Bolton, who previously served as chair of the NRA’s International Affairs Subcommittee.Mak T. House Oversight Panel Launches Inquiry Into White House Security Clearances. NPR, January 23, 2019.https://www.npr.org/2019/01/23/687898389/house-oversight-panel-launches-inquiry-into-white-house-security-clearances. The House committee renewedLetter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, January 23, 2019.https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/2019-01-23.EEC%20to%20Cipollone-WH%20re%20Security%20Clearances.pdf. an August 2018 requestLetter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, August 20, 2018.https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/2018-08-20.EEC%20Lynch%20to%20Kelly-WH%20re%20Bolton%20SF86%20Information%20Request.pdf. to the White House for documents to determine whether Bolton’s appearance in a video for Butina’s gun rights group (and any other work he may have done with her) was disclosed as part of his vetting for a security clearance. The committee also reportedly asked the NRA for more information about Bolton’s foreign contacts and the NRA International Affairs Subcommittee.Mak T. House Oversight Panel Launches Inquiry Into White House Security Clearances”. NPR, January 23, 2019.https://www.npr.org/2019/01/23/687898389/house-oversight-panel-launches-inquiry-into-white-house-security-clearances.
In February 2019, House Reps. Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice sent a letter to NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre requesting information regarding the NRA’s relationship with Torshin and Butina and the 2015 delegation trip to Russia.Letter to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. Reps. Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice, February 19, 2019. https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/reps-lieu-and-rice-question-nra-connection-2015-moscow-trip.
Companies Sever Ties with The NRA and Take Action on Gun Violence Prevention
In the face of the NRA’s growing toxicity, businesses nationwide have severed ties with the NRA, and many companies like CitigroupKerber R, Henry D. Citi sets restrictions on gun sales by retail clients. Reuters, March 22, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-guns-citigroup/citi-sets-restrictions-on-gun-sales-by-retail-clients-idUSKBN1GY29T., Levi Strauss & CoBergh C. Levi Strauss CEO: Why Business Leaders Need to Take a Stand on Gun Violence. Fortune, September 4, 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/09/04/levi-strauss-gun-violence-parkland/., and Dick’s Sporting GoodsCreswell J, Corkery M. Walmart and Dick’s raise minimum age for gun buyers to 21. New York Times, February 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/business/walmart-and-dicks-major-gun-retailers-will-tighten-rules-on-guns-they-sell.html , among others, announced they would take action on gun violence prevention.
In 2018, in the face of public pressure, more than two dozen companies cut business ties with the NRA, including: First National Bank of Omaha; FedExAnapol A. FedEx cuts ties with NRA. The Hill, October 30, 2018, https://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/413913-fedex-cuts-ties-with-nra.; Delta Air Lines; United Airlines; Allied Van Lines; North American Van Lines; Avis Budget Group; Hertz; Alamo Car Rental; Enterprise Car Rental; National Car Rental; Starkey Hearing Technologies; MetLife Insurance; Chubb Insurance; TrueCar; SimpliSafe; SymantecFortin J. A list of the companies cutting ties with the NRA. New York Times, February 24, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/24/business/nra-companies-boycott.html.; Securian; Lockton Affinity; Paramount Rx; Wild Apricot; LifeLock; TeladocLerner K, Israel J. The NRA is being supported by these companies. ThinkProgress, February 27, 2018, https://thinkprogress.org/corporations-nra-f0d8074f2ca7/; Wyndham Hotels.“These are the companies that have cut ties with the NRA”, Associated Press, May 2, 2018, https://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nra-companies-boycott-20180224-htmlstory.html
Weakening Financials at the NRA
At a time when the NRA continues to generously compensate its senior executives, any number of proof points from recent financial reporting indicate that the NRA’s financial health is in decline, including:
The NRA’s most recent public disclosures, for 2017, revealed the NRA Foundation gave a $5 million loan to the NRA and in the past two reporting cycles the Foundation has sent $38 million to the NRA.
- Contributions to the NRA are down more than $26 million from 2016 to 2017 (the most recent data reported), or 21 percent.National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990, Line 8, Part I, November 5, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html. ($124,433,466 in 2016 and $98,026,531 in 2017).
- Membership dues paid to the NRA over the same period are down more than $35 million, or 22 percent.National Rifle Association. 2016 IRS Form 990, Line 2b, Part VIII. September 18, 2017. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/530116130/201722619349300507/IRS990; National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990, Line 2b, Part VIII. November 5, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html. ($163,517,961 in 2016 and $128,209,303 in 2017).
- The NRA has run deficits of $14.8 million and $31.8 million, respectively, in the last two reporting cycles (2016 and 2017).Anapol A. Audit Shows NRA in the Red for Second Straight Year. The Hill, Sept. 20, 2018. https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/407590-audit-shows-nra-in-the-red-for-second-straight-year.
- The NRA’s 501(c)(3) sister charitable organization—the NRA Foundation—transferred $19.2 million and $18.8 million in tax-deductible donations to the NRA (a 501(c)(4) organization that engages in political activity) in 2016National Rifle Association. 2016 IRS Form 990, Line 2, Part V, Schedule R. September 18, 2017. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/530116130/201722619349300507/IRS990ScheduleR. and 2017National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990, Line 2, Part V, Schedule R. November 5, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html., respectively.
- On top of that, the NRA’s most recent public disclosures, for 2017, revealed the NRA Foundation gave a $5 million loan to the NRA.National Rifle Association. 2017 IRS Form 990, Notes Payable and Credit Agreements, Notes to Financial Statements. November 5, 2018. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5300476-NRA-2017-990.html.
- The NRA reportedly laid off several employees, including some associated with its NRATV product.Yablon A. NRA’s TV Operation Lays Off Several Employees, The Trace, November 28, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/rounds/nratv-layoffs-employees-ackerman-mcqueen/. The New York Times reported that some NRA board members are openly questioning the utility of NRATV to the organization.Hakim, D. Incendiary N.R.A. Videos Find New Critics: N.R.A. Leaders. New York Times, March 11, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/us/nra-video-streaming-nratv.html. It has also been reported that the NRA even discontinued office perks like free coffee to save money.Yablon A. NRA’s TV Operation Lays Off Several Employees, The Trace, November 28, 2018. https://www.thetrace.org/rounds/nratv-layoffs-employees-ackerman-mcqueen/.
- The New Yorker reported that a financial “audit from 2017 revealed that [the NRA] had nearly reached the limit of a twenty-five-million-dollar line of credit” and the NRA was forced to “borrow almost four million from its officers’ life insurance policies…”Spies M. Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the NRA. The New Yorker, April 17, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra.
Former NRA fundraiser Aaron Davis went on record criticizing the NRA in fairly stark terms, including describing lavish dinners “where wine was pouring freely, and [he was] going to dinners with other NRA executives where the bill would be a thousand dollars.” Davis added “I just thought, if the typical NRA member knew that this is how the organization really works, then there’s just no way they would give money.”Ibid.
The NRA’s Disappearing Act During the 2018 Midterm Elections
The NRA was reportedly outspent by gun violence prevention groups during the 2018 midterm elections
The NRA’s crises aren’t confined to investigations; as the organization becomes increasingly fringe and toxic, its political influence and engagement have fallen dramatically. After years of being perceived as a political powerhouse, the NRA was unable to successfully pass its top legislative priorities, concealed carry reciprocity and deregulating silencers, during the first two years of the Trump presidency, while unsuccessfully opposing the ATF’s rule banning bumpstocks.Coatson, J. Why the NRA is struggling. Vox, January 17, 2019, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/1/17/18167430/nra-2018-midterms-trump-spending-trouble. Then it pulled a disappearing act leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, in which its Republican allies lost control of the House of Representatives.Hakim D, Shorey R. Gun Control Groups Eclipse N.R.A. in Election Spending. New York Times, November 16, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/16/us/politics/nra-gun-control-fund-raising.html.
- The NRA was reportedly outspent by gun violence prevention groups during the 2018 midterm elections, during which its allies lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
- In 2016, the NRA spent a record amount—nearly $55 million—on federal elections, including more than $30 million to elect President Donald Trump.Maguire R. Audit shows NRA spending surged $100 million amidst pro-Trump push in 2016”. OpenSecrets, November 15, 2017, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2017/11/audit-shows-nra-spending-surged-100-million-amidst-pro-trump-push-in-2016/. According to one news report, its spending may have exceeded $70 million.Stone P, Wieder B. NRA spent more than reported during 2016 election. McClatchy, October 5, 2017, https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/article177312006.html.
- Just two years later, however, in the 2018 election, the NRA was reportedly outspent by its political opponents.Hakim D, Shorey R. Gun Control Groups Eclipse N.R.A. in Election Spending. New York Times, November 16, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/16/us/politics/nra-gun-control-fund-raising.html. Its spending during the most recent midterm election was reportedly 64 percent lower than in the previous midterm election and a fraction of what it spent in 2016.Bill Allison, NRA Spent Record Amount Lobbying Congress, With Little to Show. Bloomberg News, February 5, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-05/nra-spent-record-amount-lobbying-congress-with-little-to-show.
- In advance of the 2018 midterms, the NRA took down its database of candidate grades. According to the Washington Post, one NRA employee, “offered a possible rationale. ‘I think our enemies were using that,’ he said.”Bump P. The NRA appears to pull old lawmaker grades from its website. Washington Post, June 12, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/06/12/the-nra-appears-to-pull-old-legislator-grades-from-its-website/.
- Members of Congress returned or donated away NRA contributions before the midterms.DeBonis M. After Las Vegas, Democratic House members donate their past NRA contributions. Washington Post, October 6, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/after-las-vegas-democratic-house-members-donate-their-past-nra-contributions/2017/10/06/f8a373bc-aacc-11e7-850e-2bdd1236be5d_story.html.