“Mismanagement, cronyism and self-dealing”: Following the shuttering of NRATV, turmoil continues at the NRA
Research ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS
Since its online media outlet was shut down, the scandal-ridden National Rifle Association has taken blow after blow, from its chief lobbyist resigning to million-dollar donors withholding gifts until Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre steps down to outlets reporting that LaPierre had billed the NRA for his own extravagant travel expenses. With calls for ordinary members to reduce donations and campaigns launched to reform the organization, Republican politicians are worried the NRA’s turmoil will make it a nonfactor in the 2020 elections.
The NRA pulls the plug on NRATV
June 25: The NRA shuts down its broadcast platform. LaPierre wrote to NRA members, “After careful consideration, I am announcing that starting today, we are undergoing a significant change in our communications strategy. We are no longer airing ‘live TV’ programming.” The NRA executive vice president said the move came after several board members expressed concern the organization was moving away from gun rights advocacy. The NRA’s embattled longtime advertising agency, Ackerman McQueen, which ran NRATV, put out its own statement pledging to continue fighting “against the N.R.A.’s repeated violations of its agreement with our company with every legal remedy available to us.” [The New York Times, 6/25/19]
Initial fallout after NRATV was shuttered
June 25: Ad agencies reject the NRA’s pitch. The advertising company Publicis Groupe confirmed that it will not participate in the NRA’s pitch for business after the gun rights group bitterly parted ways with its advertising agency of four decades, Ackerman McQueen. Publicis Groupe’s position echoes that of another ad agency, IPG, which also refused the gun group’s pitch. IPG’s CEO was quoted as saying the company’s departments “just don’t want to work on an engagement like that.” [MediaPost.com, 6/25/19]
June 26: The NRA’s chief lobbyist and second-in-command resigns amid allegations of a failed attempt to oust LaPierre. Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, resigned after being accused of plotting an alleged coup attempt against LaPierre. [Bloomberg, 6/26/19]
July 1: NRA members launch a campaign to reform the pro-gun organization. After reports of cronyism and infighting, a group of NRA members created a “Save the Second” campaign to reform the NRA. Among other things, the group wants to shrink the NRA’s board of directors by more than half, create “attendance requirements for meetings,” encourage more members to vote in board elections, and refocus the organization “away from its current broad reactionary politics to a stricter focus on Second Amendment advocacy.” [The Trace, 7/1/19]
July 2: Ackerman McQueen is reportedly withholding health care benefits from employees until they sign a nondisclosure agreement. Ackerman McQueen reportedly placed its employees on unpaid leave and ended their health care benefits. The agency offered to “reactivate their insurance” provided they sign nondisclosure agreements. According to one NRATV employee, lawyers are likely to review Ackerman McQueen’s offer to evaluate whether the company can legally avoid paying its NRATV employees while extending health care benefits only to those who sign the NDA. [Media Matters, 7/2/19]
July 2: Big-ticket NRA donors pledge to withhold money until LaPierre resigns. The New York Times reported on “a network of wealthy N.R.A. donors who would cumulatively withhold more than $134 million in pledges” until the “radioactive” LaPierre steps down. The leader of the reported network of donors is also asking the organization to shrink its board of directors, remove its accounting firm, and prevent past presidents from serving on the board. [The New York Times, 7/2/19]
July 3: Ackerman McQueen accuses the NRA of withholding severance from employees. In a statement, the ad agency claimed the NRA “is contractually obligated to cover severance” for NRATV employees but is refusing to “honor their agreement.” The statement also accused the NRA of threatening employees with the loss of their benefits and said the pro-gun organization has been unwilling to negotiate. [Twitter, 7/3/19]
July 3: The Republican Party is reportedly nervous that the scandal-plagued NRA won’t be a force in upcoming elections. Turmoil within the NRA during an election cycle reportedly worried GOP senators enough that some “privately expressed concerns about the group to National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd Young.” The pro-gun group launched a huge campaign to help President Donald Trump win in 2020, but some NRA employees aren’t sure a 2020 strategy will emerge amid the group’s current scandals. Republican Party officials reportedly said the NRA’s reach in battleground states is what makes it “such a potent force.” [Politico, 7/3/19]
July 4: LaPierre’s lavish travel expenses reportedly cost the NRA tens of thousands of dollars. The Washington Post reported July 4 on extravagant spending by LaPierre in the days following the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. After giving “fiery public appearances” defending the NRA, LaPierre and his wife took a trip to the Bahamas which was billed back to the NRA at a cost of nearly $70,000. An NRA spokesperson insisted the trip to the Bahamas was for fundraising and outreach but claimed that LaPierre must fly “by private plane for security reasons”:
Twenty young children had just been gunned down by a semiautomatic rifle in their classrooms in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, and inside the hardened bunker of the National Rifle Association, rattled officials were wrestling with rare feelings of self-doubt.
In the past, the gun rights organization had responded to mass shootings with unapologetic, high-profile attacks on any attempt to restrict firearms. But several senior NRA officials — laid low by images of sobbing parents planning their children’s funerals rather than tucking presents under Christmas trees — thought the organization should take a less confrontational approach this time, according to multiple people familiar with the internal debate.
Over the objections of some top officials, however, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre struck a defiant posture. In fiery public appearances crafted by Ackerman McQueen, the organization’s longtime advertising firm, LaPierre announced that the group would create a model program to train armed security guards who could protect schools from shooters, saying that was the only measure that would keep children safe.
Then LaPierre and his wife left for the Bahamas, a trip they billed through Ackerman McQueen — and was ultimately paid for by the nonprofit organization. Their post-Christmas flights to and from Eleuthera, known for its pink beaches, cost the NRA nearly $70,000, according to internal documents and people familiar with the trip. [The Washington Post, 7/4/19]
July 6: NRA member says three board members have been removed from committees following criticism of LaPierre. In a July 6 Instagram post, NRA member Rob Pincus said board members Timothy Knight, Esther Schneider, and Allen West had lost committee positions after they spoke "out about problems and the need for reform." In a letter Pincus shared, Schneider noted that she had expressed "dire points of concern” and twice requested that LaPierre resign, and she said the removal "sends a clear message of retaliation." [Instagram, 7/6/19]
July 8: Popular gun blog calls on LaPierre to step down. The popular firearms blog The Truth About Guns published an editorial by Managing Editor Dan Zimmerman slamming the NRA’s “mismanagement, cronyism, and self-dealing,” as led by LaPierre. The editorial said LaPierre and “every member of the organization’s audit, finance and executive committees should resign immediately,” and it called on NRA members to starve the organization of cash. Zimmerman instructed average NRA members to maintain their membership enough for voting rights, but “beyond that, cut off all funds bound for Fairfax,” home of the NRA’s Virginia headquarters, until LaPierre resigns. [The Truth About Guns, 7/8/19]
July 10: Documents show that an increase in revenue from NRA membership dues doesn’t mean an increase in members. Bloomberg News reported that the NRA disclosed an increase in revenues from 2018 membership dues by up to 33%. The seemingly good news for the NRA is reportedly a result of the group increasing its “annual dues twice in two years” and offering “multiyear memberships in the first year,” not because of a substantial increase in the number of members. [Bloomberg, 7/10/19]
July 11: In a new countersuit, former NRA President Oliver North claims LaPierre blocked any internal investigations. In a new countersuit filed by former NRA President Oliver North, who was forced out after an alleged coup attempt against LaPierre, North denied trying to oust the embattled executive vice president. Instead, the suit claims that “North had a fiduciary duty as President of the NRA and a member of the Board of Directors to responsibly address allegations of financial misconduct,” which included creating a “crisis management committee to address the reports.” North’s countersuit alleges that LaPierre shut down all attempts to investigate potential financial improprieties and retaliated by removing him as president. [The Trace, 7/11/19]
July 12: D.C. attorney general subpoenas the NRA’s financial documents. Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine is requesting documents from both the NRA and its charitable foundation “as part of an investigation into whether these entities violated the District’s Nonprofit Act.” The D.C. attorney general is looking specifically at documents detailing “financial records, payments to vendors, and payments to officers and directors.” Racine is the second attorney general to issue subpoenas for financial records to the NRA this year -- New York Attorney General Letitia James opened an investigation into the NRA’s tax exempt status in April. [The Washington Post, 7/12/19]
July 15: The NRA faces growing financial uncertainty as two more donors withhold contributions. On July 15, The Trace reported that two additional NRA donors -- including a former NRA board member who asked not to be named -- are attempting “to force reform at the scandal-rocked organization by starving it of funding.” The two donors are halting plans to leave the NRA large sums in their respective wills until the board of directors is restructured and LaPierre steps down. One of the donors referred to the board as “the disease” while the scandal-ridden leader of the organization is “the symptom.” [The Trace, 7/15/19]
July 18: NRA board member and former President Marion Hammer demands other falls in line behind LaPierre. The group "Save the Second" posted to its Facebook page a leaked email from former NRA President Marion Hammer regarding board members who lost committee assignments, which some alleged was retribution for criticizing LaPierre. In her email, Hammer said board members “have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of” the NRA, but “some have chosen not to do so.” Hammer went on to say those board members who did not get a committee assignment should “consider whether or not they want to help us save the Second Amendment or continue on a course detrimental to NRA and our mission.” [Slate, 7/18/19]
This piece was originally published July 11 and is being updated with additional information as the story develops.
Correction (7/12/19): This piece originally mischaracterized Rob Pincus as a member of the NRA's board and erroneously said he had been removed from committee assignments; he is a member of the organization but not the board. It also misattributed quotes to him that were from one of the board members who lost assignments.