This past week has brought additional revelations about the National Rifle Association (NRA), but no resignation is forthcoming from CEO Wayne LaPierre, though he figures big in some of the recent stories uncovered by the media. The fact is, the organization is finding it hard to reach a tipping point on its own, and one may need to be imposed upon them. Meanwhile, the country is being treated to a very long series about the self-serving behavior of a nonprofit’s stewards, and that is never good for our collective image which translates into public confidence.
So, what’s new? Last week, three of a group of four board members who asked the board to investigate the situation resigned publicly. In a letter published by Talking Points Memo, gun activist Timothy Knight, motivational speaker Sean Maloney, and NRA fundraiser Esther Schneider said that that while “our belief in the NRA’s mission remains as strong today as ever, our confidence in the NRA’s leadership has been shattered….We have been stonewalled, accused of disloyalty, stripped of committee assignments and denied effective counsel necessary to properly discharge our responsibilities as board members.”
On Monday, the problems that worried these board members got worse. As reported by the New York Times, 90 current and former NRA board members were subpoenaed by New York’s attorney general. “The subpoena is an escalation of a continuing investigation into the tax-exempt status of the NRA, which is chartered in New York…The subpoena seeks financial records and other documents that would shed light on spending decisions made by the board.” The ongoing investigation “has been scrutinizing whether the NRA was using funds designated for charitable purposes appropriately, and if payments made to board members, officers and affiliated parties complied with relevant tax laws and fiduciary requirements.”
Also on Monday, the Washington Post elaborated on concerns about CEO Wayne LaPierre’s misuse of the organization’s resources for personal benefit. Citing confidential sources, the Post alleged the organization “planned to purchase a luxury mansion in the Dallas area last year” for his use. According to the Post, the New York attorney general’s office has included this transaction in its investigation.
This new charge deepens the rift between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen. In a statement reported by the Post, “Ackerman McQueen said Lapierre had sought the ad firm’s assistance with the real estate transaction, a proposal it said alarmed company officials. Actions in this regard led to Ackerman McQueen’s loss of faith in Mr. Lapierre’s decision-making.”
According to William A. Brewer III, an attorney for the organization, “The deal was vetoed by the NRA after its full terms—including Ackerman’s intent to spend NRA money—became known to Wayne LaPierre,” said. “Not a cent of NRA money was ultimately spent.”
As the organization’s culture slowly unravels in public, it is feeling the effects. We wrote a few days ago about what some see as a leveling of the playing field between those working to reduce gun violence and the NRA, but other gun-rights organizations, sensing the NRA’s weakened position, have begun to move in. According to the Washington Post, Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said he has seen an uptick in support of more than 20 percent in recent months. The additional resources, he said, will allow the group to file more lawsuits on behalf of gun owners. “The single biggest concern that attendees at our annual conference next month want us to address is picking up the NRA’s slack and building a firewall,” Gottlieb says. Adam Kraut, a past runner-up for the NRA board who turned down a chance to replace one of the recently resigned board members, joined a different gun-rights group, the Firearms Policy Coalition, as its new director of legal strategy.
The NRA brass has demonized critics both internal and external who point to acts of mismanagement. By trying to place this controversy solely in the political frame, they misread their own reality. And in the process, they have weakened the NRA’s long- dominant position in its field and, hopefully, its powerful role in our country’s politics and discourse around gun violence.—Martin Levine