07 August 2020 10:38

Jacinda Ardern Clarke Gayford New Zealand

New York State Sues NRA, Accuses It of Corruption, Seeks to Dissolve Group

No matter what side of the gun rights debate you're on, New York Attorney General Letitia James' and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine's efforts to dissolve the National Rifle Association and its charitable arm are verifiably good things. Having the state attorney general sue to yank the charter of the NRA in New York — where it was founded in 1871 — and claw back millions of dollars in misspent funds that were used to enrich senior management and their friends is a win for the organization's many political opponents. And having D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine's office also sue the NRA Foundation for its failure to pursue charitable purposes is just icing on the gun control cake. For too long, the NRA, because of leaders like Wayne LaPierre, has failed responsible gun owners like me. Rather than fulfill its traditional, stated role of educating Americans about firearms and supporting programs to train us to use them safely, the NRA has spent the last generation focusing on politics — now entirely GOP politics — and the interests of gun manufacturers, not owners.

And I guess it wasn't any surprise that the NRA and the NRA Foundation have pushed the edge of the envelope on what a nonprofit organization can do with donated funds; LaPierre and his friends have long held that these excesses are necessary to defend the civil rights of their members. If only part of what's alleged in the New York and D.C. suits proves to be true, LaPierre and his friends have paid themselves tens of millions of dollars in unearned compensation — including at least $64 million worth of lavish vacations, private jets, enormous personal expenses, luxury goods and payoffs for sexual harassment funneled through vendors as business expenses in the last three years alone. The NRA will, of course, get its day in court — hopefully with a better lawyer than it has had for the last few years — but it's pretty tough to continue to argue in the court of public opinion that Wayne LaPierre and his friends are doing a good job representing the interests of the average American gun owner, let alone that they should make more money than the various professionals who run other major nonprofits around the country and aren't being sued for malfeasance and mismanagement. Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer was identified Thursday in a New York Attorney General's lawsuit as being the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in NRA funds illegally diverted to her as part of an audacious self-dealing scheme led by NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. "Board Member No. 5 also receives compensation from NRA-ILA [the NRA's lobbying arm, or Institute for Legislative Action] and through grants paid to an organization called the Unified Sportsmen of Florida," the lawsuit says.

LaPierre was deposed by New York Attorney General Letitia James during the office's investigation. A photo from the NRA's First Freedom Magazine in June 2005 with the caption "Marion stands between two of her most ardent supporters – [Florida] Gov. Jeb Bush and NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre The lawsuit says the NRA "routinely" entered into agreements with board members "without adhering to applicable requirements under NRA policy and New York law requiring a Board determination in advance that the transaction was fair, reasonable and in the NRA's best interest." Its assets are required by New York law to be "used in a way that serves the interest of NRA membership and that advance the organization's charitable mission,'' according to a press release that accompanied the 169-page lawsuit. The complaint filed by James seeks to dissolve the NRA, the largest and most influential pro-gun organization in the nation, because of illegal conduct. The release said the scheme included 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 suit charged that the NRA as a whole, as well as LaPierre, former Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Wilson "Woody" Phillips, former Chief of Staff Joshua Powell and Corporate Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer, with "failing to manage the NRA's funds and failing to follow numerous state and federal laws, contributing the loss of more than $64 million in just three years for the NRA." The NRA payments that Hammer reported receiving from the NRA differed, sometimes, substantially, to the amounts asserted in the New York lawsuit. For example, the New York Attorney General's Office said that from 2014 to 2017 Hammer was paid an average of approximately $150,000 a year from LaPierre's budget.

The lawsuit also says that in 2017 LaPierre and Hammer executed a one-year contract for $168,000. Even so, if the New York Attorney General's lawsuit correctly quotes LaPierre, Hammer's annual income from the NRA is now about $400,000. The New York State attorney general sued the National Rifle Association on Thursday, seeking to dissolve the powerful gun rights advocacy organization and charging its leadership with illegally diverting funds for their own gain. Attorney General Letitia James said the NRA's leaders used members' contributions and donations as "their own piggy bank" and misspent $64 million over three years for their personal use. James contended in the lawsuit that four defendants — Wayne LaPierre, the NRA executive vice president and CEO; Wilson "Woody" Phillips, former treasurer and chief financial officer; Joshua Powell, former chief of staff and director of operations; and John Frazier, general counsel — "instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive and fraudulent." Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C., attorney general has simultaneously sued the NRA Foundation, a charitable arm of the organization designed to provide programs for firearm safety, marksmanship and hunting safety, accusing it of diverting funds to the NRA to help pay for lavish spending by top executives.

The New York Attorney-General has filed a lawsuit against the NRA, seeking to dissolve the non-profit over corporate malfeasance. In a move similar to the dissolution of the Trump charity last year, Letitia James is seeking to dissolve the NRA over alleged "illegal conduct." In a press release, the NYAG says NRA leadership should be held accountable over the "diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organisation 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." In addition to the NYAG suit, the office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia filed a separate suit against the Washington-based NRA Foundation — the charity arm of the organisation, which is meant to be financially independent.