Despite the efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to ignore allegations of misconduct and quash internal dissent, concerns just keep popping up. Earlier this week, we learned, four NRA board members added their voices to earlier calls to take the situation seriously. In a letter to the leadership, they demanded the board hire an independent investigator to explore allegations of self-dealing and financial misconduct.
Since last spring, the NRA has been besieged by critics both internal and external. It has been engaged in an expensive legal dispute with Ackerman McQueen, the firm that masterminded its public relations strategy. New York’s governor and attorney general have begun to investigate its operations, threatening its tax-exempt status and reputation. Allegations of misspending by its powerful CEO, Wayne LaPierre, and of self-dealing with members of its board became public. The organization has seen its fundraising shrink as legal expenses have soared, weakening its financial strength heading into the next election cycle.
According to Talking Points Memo (TPM), the letter’s signatories—Soldier of Fortune publisher Lt. Col. Robert K. Brown, gun activist Timothy Knight, motivational speaker Sean Maloney, and NRA fundraiser Esther Schneider—say they are motivated by responsibility to the organization. They claim the accusations “compel [them] to act.”
With this degree of scrutiny and transparency, the Board can fulfill our legal obligations, remove all doubt regarding our Association’s direction, and allow us to return to our mission of protecting our Second Amendment.
These board members, in making this demand, join the chorus of a growing group of NRA insiders seeking to safeguard the organization’s future by taking the charges seriously. One group, going by Save the Second, calls for halving the size of the board and term limits and attendance requirements for directors. David Dell’aquila, under the banner “Retire LaPierre,” claims to speak for a group of donors and members that fear the raging controversies weaken the NRA’s effectiveness as a pro-gun lobby. In a letter to the NRA board, he posted his group’s newly created website and says his group of anonymous supporters will withhold more than $160 million in current and future giving. They want the “board of directors to assert their roles and start a new chapter for the NRA without Mr. LaPierre, to ensure that it remains relevant in the future and faithful to its mission statement. Doing so will prevent this cancer from spreading.”
These protests have met an organizational stonewall. Rather than take these issues seriously, the NRA’s leadership has chosen to attack its critics and purge voices that challenge the status quo from within. According to Rolling Stone, following his victory in a power struggle with former President Oliver North, “LaPierre has systematically purged the NRA of employees and board members who weren’t full-throated allies.”
He acrimoniously pushed out Chris Cox, the head of the NRA’s political action committee and its lobbying operation; Cox was seen by many as the next in line to run the NRA. Oliver North’s replacement as president was a close associate of LaPierre’s named Carolyn Meadows, and Meadows has marginalized NRA board of members who were close to Cox or insufficiently loyal to LaPierre.
True to form, NRA President Meadows responded to the new challenge in a statement with a shrug. She described the protest as “a contrived controversy being recycled by those who supported Col. North and his employer, Ackerman McQueen, in their efforts to extort Wayne LaPierre.”
For the NRA’s embattled leadership, the issue is the NRA’s political platform, not its management practices. All these accusations, from their perspective, are smokescreens for those who want to impose restrictions on gun owners. Any action to investigate the facts distracts them from their mission. Unfortunately, as the controversy continues to burn, they will find that putting their head in the sand risks the very outcome they fear so much—a weakened NRA.—Martin Levine