According to a new report by Axios, “[t]he NRA was once considered one of the most powerful lobbies in American politics,” but “[n]ow, its inability to shell out as much cash to support Republicans across the country could mean that its days of outsized political influence are numbered.” The story notes that the NRA has spent less on political expenditures this cycle than in 2016, an indication of declining political influence in a time when “mounting fees from fights with regulators, internal infighting and the pandemic have devastated [the NRA’s] finances.”
John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, is quoted in the story saying, “[i]f you look over the last several years, the NRA has fallen from maybe perhaps the most powerful political group in America to an organization that’s on the brink of dissolution.” He added that, due in part to the NRA’s declining influence, candidates no longer avoid the issue of gun safety –– they embrace it: “You know, there was a time, truthfully when … both Democrats and Republicans shied away from the issue of gun safety out of fear of the NRA. That’s anything but the case today.”
The Axios report tells the full story:
- NRA’s TV spending decreases: According to Axios, “So far this year, [the NRA has] spent $4.7 million on TV ads compared with $27.34 million through the end of 2016.”
- Voters turn on the NRA: As noted by Axios, “Today, a majority of Americans say gun laws should be stricter, per Pew Research Center. In the past 10 years, a growing percentage of Americans say that the laws governing the sale of firearms in the U.S. should be made stricter, according to a survey from Gallup conducted over the past 30 years.” This is backed up by a 2019 analysis from the New York Times, which –– according to Axios –– “found that voters over the past six election cycles generally did not punish lawmakers who broke from the NRA’s policies.”
- Even if NRA spending picks up, it’s unlikely to match 2016: The Axios report comments that, “The NRA will have to spend massively this cycle to match its huge outlay for Trump in 2016, and it will have to do so while triaging plummeting finances and fighting lawsuits from regulators.” Notably, according to the report, “Gun control groups eclipsed the NRA in political spending for the first time during the 2018 midterms.”
This report dovetails with last week’s New York Times analysis of the NRA’s newly released grades, which found that the NRA “continues to lose ground in Congress, with the last remnants of its Democratic support vanishing and its still-high Republican support eroding slightly.” These analyses of the NRA’s decline come at a time when it is already mired in immense legal, financial, and internal turmoil––which have led even the Trump administration to begin “hedg[ing] their bets” on the NRA by “aggressively reaching out to other gun groups.”
- Legal: Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed suit seeking to dissolve the NRA for violating New York charities law. On the same day, DC Attorney General Karl Racine sued the NRA for allegedly exerting undue influence over the NRA Foundation. Additionally, the NRA was recently hit with a class action lawsuit, and it was already facing charges by New York State’s Department of Financial Services, and locked in various lawsuits with former business partner Ackerman McQueen. The Trace reported allegations that the NRA paid its top lawyer an estimated $54 million in the last two years alone as a result of these legal troubles.
- Financial: In 2019, the NRA was $57 million in debt and its revenue from member dues declined by 34% while its “legal, audit, and tax costs” increased by 39%. It recently reportedly laid off and furloughed over 200 employees. Additionally, earlier this year, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said that the NRA suffered “about a $100 million hit” in 2018 and 2019, and that for the NRA “to survive,” he took “about $80 million” out of the budget. This follows years of alleged financial mismanagement, during which NRA executive pay has skyrocketed, money flowed to “unpaid” board members, and the NRA’s own board members and accountants called into question lavish, legally suspect personal spending by its leadership.
- Internal: Experts believe that Wayne LaPierre’s removal is “a foregone conclusion” due to the NRA’s legal troubles. Additionally, according to The Guardian, the NRA’s “drop in revenues accelerated in 2019 when several large NRA donors began a drive to oust LaPierre over allegations of mismanagement and self-dealing, and to promote reforms.” These donors have boasted that “$165 million in donations and planned gifts had been withheld.”
A detailed history of the NRA’s finances and litigation can be found on NRAWatch.org.