NRA money was distributed to board members in the midst of ostensibly lavish spending by senior officials and salespeople.



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An image of NRA chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, is hanging over a registrar's office before the annual RNA meeting in Indianapolis in April. (Daniel Acker / Bloomberg News)

A former professional football player serving on the National Rifle Association's board of directors has been paid $ 400,000 by the group in recent years for his public awareness and firearms training activities. Another board member, a writer from New Mexico, raised more than $ 28,000 for articles in NRA publications. Another board member also sold ammunition from his private company to the NRA for an undisclosed amount.

The NRA, which has been shaken by allegations of exorbitant spending by top executives, has also directed funds to board members – the same people who oversee the organization's finances.

In total, 18 members of NRA's 76 board members, who are not paid as directors, have raised funds from the group over the last three years, according to tax returns, reports and reports. charitable state and NRA correspondence reviewed by the Washington Post.

Payments received by about a quarter of Board members, the magnitude of which has not been reported before, deepen the issues surrounding the strictness of the Board 's control. administration while leading the country's largest and most productive firearms rights group, according to tax experts and some long-standing members.

The NRA, created in 1871 to promote firearms safety and training, relies heavily on its 5 million members for its dues. Some supporters publicly rebel and question its leaders.

"I will be the first person to boast about defending the second amendment, but I will not defend corruption, cronyism and terror," said Vanessa Ross, owner of a bakery in the Philadelphia area and a member of life of the NRA who previously worked for Virginia. headquarters managing a program for disabled shooters.

Among the revelations that broke out in public view: CEO Wayne LaPierre The bills show that hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees have been brought to the Beverly Hills clothing store and trips abroad. Oliver North, forced to step down as president after attempting to overthrow LaPierre, was to collect millions of dollars as part of an agreement with the now unbundled NRA public relations agency, Ackerman McQueen, according to LaPierre. And the outside lawyer of the NRA has collected "extraordinary" legal fees that have totaled millions of dollars over the past year, according to North.

Oliver North announced on April 27 that he would step down as president of the National Rifle Association. (Reuters)

The contradictory accusations, combined with millions of dollars in lost profits in recent years and an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General of New York, threaten the power of the NRA, long a heavyweight of politics and a close ally of the President Trump.

The NRA said its finances were healthy and allegations of unexploited spending were unfounded. In a statement last month, a dozen board members said they had "complete confidence in the NRA's accounting practices and commitment to good governance." LaPierre refused to comment.

The board of this organization includes gun industry leaders, conservative leaders, gun enthusiasts and a handful of celebrities from the world of sport and entertainment. Among its members, whose names do not appear on the NRA's website, are former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, basketball star Karl Malone and Joe Allbaugh, who was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the George W. Bush administration. (The three are not among the directors reported by the NRA).

After learning about the money received by her fellow board members, Malone said she was worried. "If these allegations are correct and 18 board members are paid, you're absolutely right," he says. "If it's okay, members who pay their dues should also be very concerned."


A participant holds an American flag gun on the Forjas Taurus stand at the NRA meeting in Indianapolis. (Daniel Acker / Bloomberg News)

The NRA does not require members of the board of directors to donate or raise funds for the group, as do many non-profit organizations. They have no term limit.

National and federal laws allow members of non-profit boards to do business with their organizations according to certain guidelines. The Internal Revenue Service may impose penalties if senior officials and their families enjoy economic benefits greater than fair market value.

Tax experts have stated that the numerous payments made to certain NRA directors create conflicts of interest that could compromise the independent control of the board of directors over the finances of the organization.

"In 25 years of working in this field, I've never seen such a trend," said Douglas Varley, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale in Washington, DC, specializing in tax-exempt organizations, and reviewing the files filed by the NRA at the federal and state levels from 2016 to 2018. for the Washington Post. "The volume of transactions with insiders and affiliates of insiders is really amazing."

Varley said he saw no apparent violation of the law and noted that the NRA, for the most part, appeared to have properly disclosed the payments.

"But this trend raises a fundamental question: who does the organization serve," he said. "Does this benefit the gun owners of the country and the public? Or is it run as a revenue generating business for executives and employees of the organization? "

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the number of financial relationships between the directors and the NRA was "low," given the size of the board and the organization.

He called the gun rights movement "a very united community made up of partners and sellers who understand the issue and are advocates of the Second Amendment."

Because gun control groups lobbied companies to not do business with the NRA, Arulanandam said, "The business pool is getting smaller. As a result, links between employees or board members and partners are not unusual. "

William Brewer, an outside NRA's agent, stated that commercial agreements with directors are approved "as appropriate" by the board's audit committee.

"Naturally, it happens that the ANR uses suppliers with links to leaders, employees or members of the board of directors of the ANR – but only when such association works in the best interest of the organization and its members, "he said.

The NRA has provided La Poste with a copy of its Conflict of Interest Policy, which states that audit committee approval is not required for minor transactions, reimbursement or refund. fees or "transactions and activities undertaken in the normal course of business by the staff of the NRA". . "

According to the policy, board members "have a duty of loyalty to the NRA and must act in good faith and in the best interests of the NRA rather than in their own interest or that of another entity or person".

Board members who spoke to The Post defended their ability to play the role of tax watchdog while charging fees.

Former President David Keene, to whom the group has paid $ 112,000 for public speaking and consultations since 2017, said he "had never hesitated to exercise oversight required a member of the board and that he would willingly forgo any compensation if I thought for a moment about that. compromised my judgment or my responsibility. "

"The NRA board members, as a group, tend to be both straightforward and frank, so I can not imagine any of them would let a few dollars affect their judgment," he said. he added.

Allegations of financial "crisis"

In late April, the annual NRA meeting was held in Indianapolis when council members received a an alarming letter from LaPierre, who has been leading the gun lobby for decades.

In that letter, he wrote that North had warned that the group's long-time public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen, would release information that "a catastrophic account of our financial situation would be catastrophic." LaPierre said North would not send him his missive. .

The NRA leader suggested that North was compromised – a conflict between his position on the board and his personal financial interests, noting that the retired Lieutenant-Colonel of the Marine Corps had signed a contract with Ackerman to organize a series NRA documentary for "millions of dollars a year".

"I think our board and our dedicated members will see this as what it is: a threat to intimidate and divide us," concluded LaPierre.

The next day, North was forced to resign. But in a letter of departure, he warned that the finances of the organization were in "clear crisis".

The office sits on the side of LaPierre, re-electing it unanimously, according to NRA officials.

"We have full confidence in Wayne LaPierre and his work for the NRA and its members," said Carolyn D. Meadows, Chair of North's Board of Directors.

Northern lawyers refused to comment.

Since then, the NRA has been regularly confronted with allegations of inappropriate spending.

Letters from Ackerman's Chief Financial Officer at LaPierre, first reported by the Wall Street Journal and obtained by The Post, explaining the significant expenses billed by LaPierre, including nearly $ 275,000 in personal expenses at a men's store from Beverly Hills and over $ 253,000 luxury travel to diverse locations like Italy, Budapest and the Bahamas. The bills also indicate $ 13,800 for renting an apartment for a summer intern.


Promotional poster of a NRATV show starring former NRA President Oliver North. (Daniel Acker / Bloomberg News)

In other In a letter, North warned senior officials that the huge fees charged by the Brewer law firm – which he said amounted to $ 24 million in the last 13 months – "drained NRA funds in a bewildering speed ". Brewer is son-in-law Angus McQueen, CEO of the NRA's long-time advertising firm.

Following the revelations, retired Lieutenant-Colonel Allen West, a former Republican member of the Republic of Florida and a member of the NRA's governing board, called LaPierre's resignation, describing "a crony cabal" ".

NRA officials said LaPierre's wardrobe allowance began 15 years ago and that he had been urged by Ackerman to make the necessary purchases at his public appearances, a practice they believe has been abandoned since. They said his trip was necessary for fundraising. The apartment was secured for a three-month summer internship, while the university housing usually used was not available, the NRA said.

NRA officials also stated that North's memo describing the legal fees paid to Brewer was "inaccurate".

"This reflects an uninformed view of the firm, its billing and advocacy for the NRA," said Charles L. Cotton, Chair of the NRA Audit Committee. "The board supports the firm's work." Brewer did not respond to a request for comment on his fees.

The increasingly acrimonious split of the Oklahoma-based Ackerman-based NRA, which, along with its affiliates, received about $ 40 million from the nonprofit group in 2017, according to tax returns . Ackerman has produced provocative commercials and television shows, which marks a growing break with the NRA's traditional focus on firearms rights.

The gun lobby and the public relations agency have been suing over the last few months, accusing each other of fraud and fraud.

In a statement, Ackerman said that he "had followed the explicit instructions" from officials of the NRA. The company said the NRA was auditing its payments almost every year and could justify all its bills. "They can challenge any bill, but they have not done it," the company said.

The NRA accused Ackerman of concealing documents, which the company denies, and of breaching the principle of confidentiality by disclosing information.

The quarrel comes as part of an investigation conducted by Attorney General of New York State, Letitia James, on the tax-exempt status of the organization, which is licensed to New York. As part of the investigation, his office issued subpoenas to appear at the ANR, as well as orders to ANR entities and their suppliers in order to preserve the records, according to people close to the survey.


Participants defend the national anthem at the NRA meeting in Indianapolis. (Daniel Acker / Bloomberg News)

Brewer, the ANR's outside lawyer, said the group was complying with all regulations and cooperating with the investigation. "The ANR is prepared for this, and has full confidence in its accounting practices and its commitment to good governance," he said.

In the midst of turmoil, much of the NRA's board of directors remained silent – or defended LaPierre's expenses.

"These are obsolete news, which are recycled by those who have personal agendas. In any case, all board members are fully aware of these issues, "Meadows said in a statement.

The organization has not retained the services of an outside firm to investigate charges of abuse of expenses, a measure that legal experts believe non-profit boards often take into account. such situations. According to Mr. Brewer, NRA practices are already under "constant review" by the highest officials and the board.

Instead, NRA leaders said gun control advocates ignited controversies to sabotage the organization. "Our finance company is in order – we are not leaving," read a May 22 letter to members signed by Meadows and 11 other board members, including many past presidents.

But some longtime members of the NRA are losing confidence in leadership – and considering withdrawing from the organization.

"You have these facts that appear, which for most members of the NRA seems to be a very unreasonable sum spent on luxury and amenities," said NRA member and firearms trainer Robert Pincus. from Florida.

"And at the same time, the NRA is calling cold and raising money, claiming that they will go bankrupt if they do not have money to fight against New York State," said Pincus. "Then you have the [new] President saying that they are in great financial shape, all the financial problems of the past have been solved. These three messages do not all go together. "

"Nothing bad"

Federal and state filings show that the NRA has turned to members of its board for a variety of paid services over the last three years, including to bring in new members.

Lawyers specializing in nonprofit organizations stated that it was unusual for board members to receive membership fees for recruitment.

"Most groups rely on board members to donate money, but not for council members to get money," said New York attorney Daniel Kurtz. . "I think the contributing audience would look at that with a downcast."

Owen Mills, a board member, runs Gunsite Academy, an Arizona firearms training center, which received about $ 11,000 in 2016 and 2017.

Mills defended the financial ties between the board members and the ANR, saying that they should be able to do business with the group as long as their prices are competitive.

"There is nothing wrong with that," Mills said. "The NRA buys a lot of things. Thus, it would not be unusual to do business with the members of your board of directors, and all of this is open to the public. "

Since 2016, board members have received significant amounts for consulting purposes, as shown in the public reports. NRA officials provided additional details on the specificities of some of their work.

Lance Olson, a former police officer from Iowa, received a total of $ 255,000 to educate gun collectors and raise money, and Dave Butz, a former NFL player, received $ 400,000 for public education and training in firearms, according to the NRA.

Olson did not respond to requests for comment. Butz, who was not re-elected to the board in April, declined to comment.

A company headed by Mercedes Schlapp, a communications assistant at the White House, who resigned from the board when she joined the administration in 2017, received a total of $ 85,000 in 2016 and 2017 for media strategy consultations.

She did not respond to requests for comment. Schlapp's ability to represent the organization in the Spanish-language media "has made his company highly qualified," NRA said.

Marion Hammer, longtime director and former president of the ANR, has received at least $ 610,000 over the last three years for advisory services and legislative lobbying in Florida. Hammer declined to comment. In a statement, the group described it as "a tireless supporter of the NRA's fight to protect the second amendment".

Director Bart Skelton, writer in New Mexico, has received at least $ 28,750 over three years to produce articles for NRA publications and an allowance of $ 6,550 in 2017. He has not responded to requests for comments.

The company of NRA and rock producer Ted Nugent received $ 50,000 for his appearances at the 2016 NRA convention, while the company of country director and singer Craig Morgan received $ 23,500 for musical performances.

Neither responded to requests for comment.

In other cases, the NRA remunerated companies run by members of its board of directors.

The NRA Foundation, the charity branch of the group, has purchased nearly $ 3.1 million worth of ammunition and other supplies from Crow Shooting Supply, a company controlled by director and former president Pete Brownell.

NRA officials and Brownell said the group had started buying supplies from Crow before Brownell took over the company in 2011.

However, the first time the foundation disclosed the contract in tax returns, it was in 2017, as the Wall Street Journal says. first reported.

NRA officials said the foundation announced the disclosure in 2017 "in order to give greater visibility to the mission and activities of the Foundation".

A spokesman for Brownell, who announced last week that he was stepping down from the board to focus on his activities, said the deal had been reviewed by the audit committee .

"Crow is one of the only wholesalers in the country that can meet the volume and shipping needs of programs," said Ryan Repp. "Pete takes his ethical obligations seriously," adding that Brownell had refrained from voting on issues that directly affected his business.

The amount of money collected by a board member remains unknown because it was paid for by Ackerman, the NRA's marketing agency. Julie Golob, a gun activist in Kansas City, Missouri, organizes and consults the NRA's video programming produced by the company, according to internal documents.

She declined to say how much she was paid or about her two roles of director and subcontractor of the NRA. The NRA stated that the agreement was approved by the audit committee and that Golob did not participate in the discussions concerning Ackerman.

In addition to the 18 board members paid in recent years, the NRA also claimed to have paid an undisclosed amount to a son of board member James Porter, a former chair of the group. His son, who works for the Bradley law firm, has been involved in many gun-related litigation, according to his biography. Neither father nor son responded to requests for comment.

Another director, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), received thousands of dollars in donations from the NRA's political wing for his campaign. Young did not respond to a request for comment.

Challenges on many fronts

Longtime ANR members have expressed concern that allegations of insider trading and major expenses by the ANR will create an appearance of impropriety.

"The NRA can not afford to give the public and the media the best way to feed the public," said Tiffany Johnson, a Memphis gun instructor and life member. "We can not give anyone any reason to intimidate even that we have inadmissible conflicts of interest, that there is introspection."

The situation is further compounded by signs that the NRA's finances are under pressure.

Public deposits show gun advocacy group – which spent $ 31 million to help elect Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, more than any other outside group – had a shortfall of more $ 17 million in 2017, the latest available report. That year, he generated revenues of nearly $ 312 million.

NRA officials said the organization was on budget this year and said it "respects all the obligations of banks and suppliers."


A participant examines a Sightron riflescope at the NRA meeting in April in Indianapolis. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

In Congress, the Democrats of the Senate Finance Committee are looking more and more at the group's ties with Russia. This survey expanded to include insider trading allegations.

Meanwhile, the troubles at the NRA have benefited other gun rights organizations, who have reported seeing an increase in the number of memberships and contributions.

"In recent months, our support has increased by over 20%," said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation and president of his sister organization, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. He said donors are responding to "reports of lavish spending" at the NRA and support for gun control among Democratic presidential candidates.

ANR directors said the current conflicts were exaggerated and that they would not cause long-term damage.

"We are the most influential body in the world for gun owners," said Mills, director of Arizona, "and we will survive this retarder and we will come out stronger." and will remain the guardians of civil rights. "

Alice Crites, Anu Narayanswamy and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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