Nel's New Day

September 4, 2019

NRA Rapidly Disintegrates

Filed under: Guns,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 11:02 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Last year has been hard on the organization that controls Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and GOP legislators since the National Rifle Association imploded at its annual conference only five months ago. That was when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre blocked the re-election of NRA’s President Oliver North. When North became president a year earlier, LaPierre called him “hands down, the absolute best choice to lead our NRA Board”; a year later LaPierre accused North of trying to extort him.

Since that time, multiple scandals about NRA have dribbled out, causing many of its members to become disillusioned. In May, leaked documents showed employees unhappy about low wages, underfunded pensions, and a culture of fear while LaPierre made $1.4 million in 2017, making him the eighth-highest compensated nonprofit leader in the nation. The pension plan was frozen in 2018, meaning that employees cannot accrue new benefits while working for the organization. LaPierre got a one-time $3,767,345 supplemental retirement payment in 2015.

Less than two months after North’s ouster, LaPierre got rid of chief lobbyist Chris Cox, part of NRA leadership for 24 years, by accusing him of conspiring with North against him. Cox was also executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, the explicitly political arm of the gun lobby, since 2002 and made over $1.1 million in 2017. A lawsuit against Cox might force North to pay his own legal fees with the claim that he acted in bad faith.

Another blow was NRA’s closure of its online media arm, NRATV. NRA board members had increasingly become disenchanted with live production for the video channel with little response: January had only 49,000 unique visitors. The content also moved far from gun rights into right-wing talking points such as criticism of immigration and the FBI. Bad publicity came from Dana Loesch’s program putting KKK hoods on talking trains from Thomas & Friends because the popular children’s program added a train from Africa. 

A sexual harassment allegation against NRA senior official Josh Powell from an employee was settled in 2017 with the nonprofit’s funds, the same year that LaPierre promoted Powell to executive director of general operations. The next year, NRA’s ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, barred Powell from any further contact with its employees after a sexual harassment dispute with a woman who worked for the ad agency. Ackerman said that Powell received “the full support of Mr. LaPierre and the board of directors.” LaPierre said that the claim was part of a larger “extortion demand” and made Powell a “senior strategist” on the NRA’s legal team. NRA accountants found payments by Powell to his father, and his wife was hired by one of NRA’s top fundraising vendors. Board members had asked that Powell be dismissed.

Two prominent board members resigned from the NRA board in mid-August: country music singer Craig Morgan and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, the latter after he had urged careful review of spending under LaPierre. Childress wanted an independent ethics counsel to review $24 million paid in 13 months to an outside law firm. Since May, seven of the 76-member board have left, some of them after they were stripped of committee assignments. Board objections came from cuts in funding for firearm safety and education to increase spending on legal fees, travel, and entertainment. Eighteen board members also benefited from NRA finances, incurring possible conflict of interest charges.

The departures started in the midst of news about LaPierre’s efforts to get NRA to pay for a $6 million mansion in a gated Dallas-area golf club after the Parkland shooting. The “good guy with a gun” said he need a more secure place to live. In addition, LaPierre and his wife asked for a membership at the exclusive club and two vehicles. The NRA started the purchase transaction by paying $70,000 to an entity set up by Ackerman at LaPierre’s request. The deal fell through, and the ad agency stopped funneling LaPierre’s personal expenses through its multimillion-dollar annual contract.

Before Ackerman stopped paying LaPierre’s bills, NRA paid $542,000 for private jet trips for LaPierre, including a trip to the Bahamas with his wife after the Sandy Hook shooting; $300,000 for Italian designer suits; and $13,800 rent for a summer intern’s apartment. LaPierre’s wife, Susan, also benefited from the NRA, spending tens of thousands of dollars flying hair and makeup artists around the country, including housing the stylists in luxury hotels. Again, LaPierre blamed Ackerman.

Prior to North’s departure, the NRA suffered from publicity about its expenditure of $31 million for DDT’s campaign, part of the over $50 million for the 2016 elections. The media reported possibly illegal connections, perhaps money laundering between NRA and Russian officials for the election. Gun safety groups outspent the NRA for the 2018 elections for the first time ever, and gun safety candidates won, partly from the movement led by Parkland High School students after the horrific high school shooting in Florida. Since 2010, the NRA took over $200 million in cash from its non-profit NRA Foundation to survive, and NRA was short $31.8 million at the end of 2017.

Making matters worse, New York declared that the NRA’s “Carry Guard” insurance program providing policies for self-defense shootings violated state insurance rules. Critics called it “murder insurance” because of is coverage for a potentially criminal act. Litigation continues while the state’s AG investigates NRA’s tax status and Congress investigates campaign finance law violations involving Russia.

Government records show that DDT’s 2020 campaign funneled money to a shell company connected to ad buyers in an illegal coordination scheme with the NRA through 2018 and up to May 2019. The buys were routed through a secret limited-liability company appeared in FCC records.

In July, D.C.’s attorney general issued subpoenas to the NRA for its financial records, payments to vendors, and payments to officers and directors.

Ackerman continues to sue NRA after it demanded the ad agency remove any NRA references from the ad agency’s website. The National Rifle Association has sued, again, its former ad maker and “NRATV” creator, Ackerman. The feud started in April when NRA sued Ackerman for not handing over financial records and then for leaking documents. Ackerman then sued NRA for the first time, and the back and forth became more vicious as LaPierre accused Ackerman of extortion.

The NRA’s biggest loss may be its donors disgusted with the organization’s problems. David Dell’Aquila gave $100,000 to NRA and pledged most of his own estate but said that $134 million in pledges may disappear. One donor, an anonymous “senior firearms industry executive,” might decide that LaPierre is bad for the interests of the firearms industry. Under LaPierre, the NRA focuses on guns as self-defense for angry and paranoid people who might not approve of LaPierre’s scandals. Difficulty in attracting followers might translate in difficulty in finding Republican voters.

The gun culture may be changing, especially after the growing number of deaths in highly-publicized mass shootings this summer. The loss of 22 percent in membership fees between 2016 and 2017 means an even greater drop in membership because of two membership raises in one year. Contributions to the NRA were $98 million in 20017, down from almost $125 million the year before. Almost one-fifth of last year’s contributions, $19 million, came from one anonymous donor. At the end of 2018, the NRA reported losing $55 million in revenue.

Gun sales are also dropping: U.S. firearms sales fell 6.1 percent in 2018 marking the second straight year of declines. Because NRA gets a cut of these sales, their revenue also goes down. More stores are eliminating gun sales, the most recent Walmart, that is ending sales of handguns and short-barrel rifle ammunition that can be used in large capacity clips on military-style weapons while asking customers to not openly carry firearms in its stores. A statement referred to concern about “multiple incidents” of individuals wanting to “test our response” to the El Paso shooting by bringing weapons into stores. For example, 20-year-old Dmitriy Andreychenko who faces up to four years in prison and a $10,000 for legally bringing over 100 rounds of ammunition to a Walmart in Springfield (MO) as part of a “social experiment.” Walmart stopped selling assault-style rifles in 2015, raised the age to buy guns from 18 to 21 in 2018, and called for strengthened background checks. Krogers has also asked customers to not openly carry in their stores.

Despite an increasing number of mass shootings and more gun violence from white supremacists, GOP members of Congress who receive hundreds of thousands from the NRA reject any gun safety legislation plus millions more dark money given to PACs. These are the top-20 list of congressional members recently getting the most money recently from the gun lobby based on the 2017-2018 election cycle. Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) who lost her election and then was appointed until 2020 came in second at $227,928.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution declaring the NRA a “domestic terrorist organization” and urging the city to examine its financial relationships with companies that do business with the group. The statement noted mass shootings, including the murders of three people, all younger than 26, at Gilroy’s (CA) food festival. “The National Rifle Association musters its considerable wealth and organizational strength to promote gun ownership and incite gun owners to acts of violence,” the resolution read.

After the August killings in El Paso, DDT made a few noises about background checks but quit after several long discussions with LaPierre. Later killings in Midland-Odessa made no difference with him. In a complete rejection of democracy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he would bring any bill to the floor that DDT didn’t want. Only elections may make a difference.

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