The New York Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association on Thursday, seeking to dissolve the powerful gun lobby for a multitude of alleged violations of state law governing charities.
Attorney General Letitia James accused the NRA of an array of “illegal conduct,” according to a press release describing the suit, including “[the] diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organization for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no- show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty.”
The civil lawsuit also names as defendants longtime NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and three other NRA executives – Wilson “Woody” Philips, John Frazer and Joshua Powell – and seeks their removal from their current positions and prohibition from their future service on any other New York-based nonprofit board. Those four executives “failed to fulfill their fiduciary duty to the NRA,” James alleged, “and used millions upon millions from NRA reserves for personal use, including trips for them and their families to the Bahamas, private jets, expensive meals, and other private travel.” The lawsuit singled out LaPierre, in particular, for enabling a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA, often for his personal benefit.
James is demanding more than a change in leadership. The corruption within the organization, she argued, is pervasive, as senior leaders “blatantly ignored” internal policies, while the board’s audit committee was “negligent” in providing oversight.
James wants to see the entire 149-year-old organization, which is chartered in New York, “shuttering its doors.”
In a brief statement shared on Twitter, the NRA vowed to fight what the organization considers a politically motivated attack.
“The NRA has full confidence in its accounting practices and commitment to good governance,” NRA outside counsel William Brewer said in a statement last year, responding to prior allegations related to the group’s finances. “The association’s financials are audited and its tax filings are verified by one of the most reputable firms in the world. Internally, the association has an appropriate conflict of interest policy, which provides that all potential conflicts are reviewed and scrutinized by the audit committee.”
The NRA has been a major force in Republican Party politics for decades and, more recently, has emerged as a key source of support for President Donald Trump. In the 2016 election, various arms of the NRA were responsible for directing more than $50 million into political campaigns, including $30 million to back then-candidate Trump, according the federal election data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In response to questions from reporters on Thursday, President Trump called the move “terrible” and suggested that the NRA should move to another state, such as Texas, where the organization could “lead a very good and beautiful life.”
Thursday’s filing is the culmination of a 17-month investigation into the organization’s finances and its nonprofit status launched in April 2019 in the wake of revelations about questionable spending practices inside the NRA that were further detailed in an anonymous leak of internal documents.
The NRA sued its longtime ad agency Ackerman McQueen, the contractor behind NRATV, raising questions about the firm’s relationship with then-NRA President retired Lt. Col. Oliver North. Later that same month, The New York Times reported that in a letter sent to NRA board members, LaPierre accused North of extorting him, threatening to release damaging information about the NRA unless LaPierre resigned from his post as chief executive officer. Ultimately, however, it was North who would step down as president, losing the apparent power struggle. In May, a trove of what appeared to be internal NRA documents were anonymously posted online, raising more questions about LaPierre’s leadership amid mounting allegations of financial mismanagement within the gun lobby.
The leaked documents included letters that appeared to show that North had raised serious concerns with the organization’s audit committee about $24 million in legal fees paid to the firm of outside counsel William Brewer over the previous year. Those fees, estimated in one letter to cost the organization nearly $100,000 per day, “are draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed,” wrote North and NRA Vice President Richard Childress on April 18 as they urged the committee to authorize an independent review.
The leaked documents also included purported letters to LaPierre from Ackerman McQueen’s chief financial officer William Winkler seeking more information about $274,965.03 in wardrobe expenses made at Zegna in Beverly Hills and $267,460.53 of other personal expenses – primarily travel to the Bahamas, Palm Beach, New York, Los Angeles, Reno, Budapest and Italy – apparently for LaPierre but charged to Ackerman McQueen. The total also includes $13,804.84 for an apartment in Fairfax, Virginia that, according to the letter, LaPierre “required we rent” and “billed to the NRA” for a young woman who, according to LinkedIn, was then an intern at the organization.
In response to questions, however, top NRA officials have continued to express their support of LaPierre.
“This is stale news – being recycled by those with personal agendas,” said Carolyn Meadows, the NRA’s current president, last year. This has no bearing on the board’s support of Wayne – and the work the NRA does to protect America’s constitutional freedoms.”
As NRA in-fighting spilled into public view, other investigators opened similar probes. The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia issued subpoenas as part of “an investigation into whether these entities violated the District’s Nonprofit Act,” and a Democratic lawmaker and member of the House Ways & Means Committee released a report detailing the NRA’s alleged “self-dealing, corruption and abuse of its tax-exempt status” and urged the Internal Revenue Service to investigate.
Thursday’s lawsuit seeks restitution for NRA members who were allegedly defrauded and additional penalties worth millions of dollars. The New York charities bureau is the same team that forced the Trump Foundation to dissolve in 2018 for alleged misappropriations of charitable funds to service Trump’s business and political interest.
In a press conference on Thursday, James said the investigation is ongoing, and while the lawsuit is a civil matter, any potential criminal activity they uncover will be referred to prosecutors.
“Enough was enough,” James said. “We needed to step in and dissolve this [organization] just as we did with the Trump Foundation.”
What do you think the outcome will be for this powerful organization?