July 30, 2019; The Trace and ProPublica
This week, we learned that NRA (National Rifle Association) staff had tried to warn their leadership about unauthorized spending they thought threatened the organization’s future. The new information follows the string of allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and self-dealing that have emerged as investigative reporters, state regulators, and concerned insiders have tried to raise red flags about a nonprofit organization seemingly gone awry.
The Trace and ProPublica report that beginning in 2018, “accountants for the National Rifle Association began cataloging for its senior leadership questionable financial arrangements that had led to millions of dollars in payments to a group of the organization’s top executives and consultants.”
The source of the new information is Emily Cummins, a former senior employee working in the NRA treasurer’s office who left the organization last November. Her statement presented concerns from the NRA’s accounting staff that “a variety of NRA vendors, including [longtime and now estranged PR counsel] Ackerman McQueen, were receiving what some accountants considered unjustified payments, and an array of NRA officials and contractors had been involved in what the accountants saw as expense abuses and questionable deals not initially approved by the board’s audit committee.” This information appears to confirm the charges made by former NRA president Oliver North.
Cummins was particularly discomfited by the practices of the NRA’s outside legal counsel, William Brewer, and his firm, whose total bill to the association totaled $24 million over a 13-month period. According to The Trace, she accused Brewer of “trying to intimidate, deceive, and silence NRA staff who were processing his bills.”
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Some accountants were growing increasingly troubled by the organization’s mismanagement, exorbitant spending, and questionable deals involving conflicts of interest…in the first quarter of 2019, Brewer’s firm charged over $97,000 per day, according to internal NRA documents posted anonymously online.
The article also charges that Brewer prevented staff from accurately communicating their concerns to the board: “Brewer effectively silenced NRA staff who uncovered issues needing board of directors attention [and] influenced members of the board [by] selectively withholding information relevant to their decision making.”
Brewer’s firm strongly dismisses these charges, saying they “reflect a misinformed view of the Brewer firm, its billings, and its advocacy for the NRA [and] a radical misunderstanding of certain work.”
The continued focus on the mismanagement of the NRA batters in vain, at least to date, against an entrenched leadership headed by CEO Wayne LaPierre. Internal critics have been brushed aside as disloyal to the organization’s mission. The words of Marion Hammer, a past NRA president whom NPQ quoted in a prior article, capture the sense of an organization under siege: “The NRA finds itself under attack. [Dissenters] might want to consider whether or not they want to help us save the Second Amendment or continue on a course detrimental to NRA and our mission.”
From this perspective, it seems unlikely that the NRA’s current leadership will take this new information as anything other than a political attack. Until either internal pressure from NRA board members and donors trying to get their organization to investigate the charges responsibly—or from the two outside investigations looking at NRA practices—force a change, denials and counterattacks will likely keep coming from headquarters. And that’s not good for the NRA or its members.—Martin Levine