NRA Wine Club,” Jon Roig

This morning, Everytown for Gun Safety issued a letter appealing to the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to direct the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) to remove the National Rifle Association Foundation from its list of potential recipients of donor money.

The letter points to recent suits filed against the NRA (a 501c4), the NRA foundation (a 501c3), and their leaders by the attorneys general of New York and the District of Columbia as grounds that make the group ineligible for participation in the CFC’s annual campaign.

Readers may recall that in early August, New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit that seeks to dissolve the NRA for countenancing years of fraudulent behavior on the part of Wayne LaPierre, who has been its CEO for 39 years, as well as three of his top lieutenants. In the suit, James estimates these activities drained approximately $64 million from the organization in the past three years alone. At the same time, Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced the District of Columbia’s own lawsuit against the NRA Foundation, which, it charges, allowed the NRA to raid its coffers at will, thus violating its charitable purpose.

The Combined Federal Campaign, due to launch its annual drive at the end of this month, is a nationwide workplace solicitation campaign for federal employees. It has had its own problems of late; in the last few decades, the number of participants has plummeted. This means the amount of cash raised for the NRA Foundation through the CFC has been modest and on a downward trajectory that matches the Campaign as a whole. The following totals come from the Workplace Giving Alliance:

  • 2014: $144,400
  • 2015: $125,800
  • 2016: $119,400
  • 2017: $59,584
  • 2018: $39,270

Still, in an interview with NPQ, Justin Wagner, Everytown’s senior investigations counsel and the author of the letter, points out that the Campaign’s inclusion of the foundation amounts to a seal of approval because the CFC is pledged to vet its nonprofit beneficiaries. This is the second year Everytown has asked the CFC to honor its standards by removing the foundation, and this time, the allegations of significant mismanagement and fraud have now been confirmed, expanded, and documented in the complaints, which Everytown makes easily accessible on its NRA Watch website.

The letter, which calls for the foundation’s immediate expulsion, reads in part:

The NRA Foundation’s alleged conduct, as detailed in the DC Attorney General’s complaint and in our October 2019 letter to your office, would put it firmly on the wrong side of the core requirement for participation in the CFC – i.e., that it have “a high degree of integrity and responsibility in the conduct of [its] affairs.” See OPM CFC Regulation §950.202(a)(4)(ii). Additionally, these allegations suggest that the NRA Foundation may have falsely certified to the CFC that its governing body has “no material conflicts of interest.” On the contrary, the DC Attorney General has alleged that the “Foundation Board and Officers have conflicting loyalties, with loyalty to the NRA taking precedence, thereby subverting the independence of the Foundation” and that the NRA Foundation sent “unfair loans and management fee payments to the NRA” and allowed “its funds to be diverted from charitable purposes and wasted to prop up the NRA in impermissible ways.” Based on these allegations the NRA Foundation also likely falsely certified to the CFC that its “contributions are effectively used for the announced purposes of the charitable organization.” See OPM CFC Regulation §950.203(a)(5-8).

Wagner points out that the CFC would not be the first to implement such an action.

The two largest donor-advised-fund sponsors in the country, Fidelity Charitable and Schwab Charitable, even prior to the DC enforcement action, banned new donations to the NRA Foundation and other 501(c)(3) organizations affiliated with the NRA. Schwab Charitable said “like many other donor-advised funds Schwab Charitable follows IRS guidance and suspends grants to 501(c)(3) organizations that are under investigation, until the investigation concludes and the organization retains its 501(c)(3) status.” This reasoning is sound: if misconduct occurred or may be occurring at a charity, continuing to steer contributions to that same charity is irresponsible. The DC Attorney General’s enforcement action raises serious concerns of misconduct at the NRA Foundation. At the very least, the Office of Personnel Management should follow the lead of these financial institutions and suspend the NRA Foundation’s participation in the CFC while litigation into its conduct is ongoing.

Everytown’s demand is more than reasonable under the circumstances, especially in light of the estimated $67 million in losses cited by the attorney general and the lengthy time period over which the malfeasance is said to have occurred. Besides, the CFC, which took in a high total of $90.2 million in 2018, as compared to the $282.6 million it brought in back in 2009, needs no additional blows to its own deeply eroded credibility.