Alongside this Stunning Admission of Wrongdoing, the New Filing Reveals that the NRA is Losing Membership Revenue, Cutting Spending on Key Programs, and Paying Massive Legal Fees
According to a Washington Post report from the day before Thanksgiving, “the National Rifle Association has made a stunning declaration in a new tax filing: Current and former executives” –– including NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre –– “used the nonprofit group’s money for personal benefit and enrichment.” This shocking acknowledgment of wrongdoing contradicts years of NRA denials and lends credence to NY AG Letitia James’ recently filed lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the NRA for exactly this type of self-dealing.
The report further paints a picture of the NRA in extreme financial distress, with legal fees “soar[ing] in 2019 to $38.5 million” and membership dues plummeting by 34 percent. These financial woes appear to have led the NRA to slash spending on key political campaigns, with the organization “allocat[ing] less than $17 million for President Trump’s reelection… compared with the $30 million it spent to help elect Trump in 2016.” John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety, commented on this phenomenon for the Post’s story, saying: “Put simply, [the NRA] put their limited money on Donald Trump and lost big time.”
Key details from the filing include:
- LaPierre and five former executives allegedly enriched themselves at the expense of the NRA: According to the Post, “The 2019 filing states that LaPierre and five former executives received ‘excess benefits,’ a term the IRS uses to describe executives’ enriching themselves at the expense of a nonprofit entity.” The filing adds that LaPierre “corrected” $300,000 in excess benefits with a repayment and blames other financial abuses on five departed officers: former chief lobbyist Chris Cox (who allegedly improperly received more than $1 million for travel, meals, and tickets to sporting events), former board president Oliver North, former treasurer Woody Phillips, former LaPierre chief of staff Josh Powell, and former lobbyist David Lehman.
- NRA money continues to flow to board members: According to the Post, the NRA filing demonstrates that it “continued to direct money to some board members for providing various services.” For example, the “the NRA filing acknowledged the dual and potentially conflicting roles held by board member Marion Hammer, a longtime consultant who was paid $220,350 last year.” Additionally, “[s]even other board members received a total of $175,000 in side agreements with the organization, the filing shows.”
- For the second consecutive year, NRA legal fees rose as it slashed spending on key programs like hunting and safety education: According to the Post, NRA legal costs “soared in 2019 to $38.5 million from $25 million in 2018.” These rising costs appear to have taken a toll on the NRA’s core functions, with the organization decreasing spending on “hunter services by 63 percent; public affairs by 52 percent; legislative programs by 17 percent; and safety education, training, gun shows and exhibits by 16 percent.” Less than 10 percent of the NRA’s spending is dedicated to gun safety, education, and training –– and the organization’s single largest vendor is now its outside law firm. Many of those programs had already faced cuts the previous year, as the Washington Post reported at the time: “spending plunged 22 percent for education and training, 61 percent for hunter services and 51 percent for field services.” At the same time, “legal fees more than tripled in 2018, to more than $25 million.”
This filing comes at a time when the NRA is already mired in immense legal, political, and financial turmoil.
- Financial woes: Earlier this year, the NRA reportedly laid off or furloughed over 200 employees due to financial struggles, and Wayne LaPierre was caught on tape saying that the NRA suffered “about a $100 million hit” in 2018 and 2019, and that he he took “about $80 million” out of the budget for the NRA to “survive.”
- Legal troubles: This summer, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed suit seeking to dissolve the NRA for allegedly violating New York’s charities law. On the same day, DC Attorney General Karl Racine sued the NRA for allegedly exerting undue influence over the NRA Foundation. On top of that, the NRA also faces a class action lawsuit, is embroiled in various lawsuits with former business partner Ackerman McQueen, and just settled a lawsuit with New York State’s Department of Financial Services –– an investigation which began after Everytown conducted and shared an investigation into the NRA’s Carry Guard program in 2017. These lawsuits have led to immense legal costs, with the NRA allegedly paying its top lawyer an estimated “$54 million” in the last two years alone.
A detailed history of the NRA’s finances and litigation can be found on NRAWatch.org.