Newly leaked documents have fueled two new reports over the weekend of allegations of irresponsible and potentially legally dubious spending by the National Rifle Association. The reports have also given further insight into the ugly infighting in the NRA leadership and into the precarious situation the organization has found itself in as it faces an investigation into possible financial wrongdoing.
On Saturday, the Daily Beast reported that an anonymously leaked document appeared to show allegations by former NRA president Oliver North that the group was facing an “existential threat” in the form of legal bills. In the leaked confidential April memo dating to the week before he was dramatically ousted as president, North wrote that the NRA was being billed nearly $100,000 a day. North then pleaded for an audit of their payments to outside attorney Bill Brewer.
As North contended, the fees could doom the NRA financially. Over the past year the organization had paid Brewer $18.5 million, he noted. North said he had appealed to CEO Wayne LaPierre directly to have an independent review of the law firm’s invoices, but LaPierre denied his requests. He also suggested that the NRA didn’t properly manage the law firm’s work.
NRA management told the Daily Beast that the allegations were inaccurate and suggested the leak was part of a smear campaign targeting LaPierre. (North, best known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, was pushed out as president when LaPierre accused North of trying to use allegations of financial impropriety to extort him into resigning.) “It is troubling and a bit pathetic that some people would resort to leaking information to advance their agendas,” the new president, Carolyn Meadows, said in a statement.
Separately on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported on leaked documents—also from letters North sent to the organization’s board last month—that appeared to show that the advertising firm Ackerman McQueen helped pay for luxurious clothing and travel for LaPierre. According to the anonymously posted documents, LaPierre billed $39,000 for just one day of shopping at a clothing boutique at Beverly Hills. On another line, he charged $18,300 for a car and driver in Europe, and in another, $13,800 for a summer intern’s rent. The firm tallied up more than $542,000 in clothes, travel, and other expenses, much of which went into flights. North suggested the costs meant “financial impropriety” by LaPierre. The NRA has said the expenditures were justifiable for LaPierre’s work and public appearances.
Last month, the NRA sued Ackerman McQueen for documents about its expenses, accusing it of failing to justify its billing. According to that lawsuit, North withheld information about his relationship with the firm.
The problem with the allegations has to do with the NRA’s status as a nonprofit. As the New Yorker reported last month when it looked into financial improprieties at the organization, it’s possible the group has violated New York state’s laws for nonprofits, which are meant to operate their finances with the best interest of their organization in mind and not for the benefit of any executives or board members.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has opened an investigation into the NRA’s finances and tax-exempt status. The NRA is chartered in New York, and James has the authority to punish the organization if she finds wrongdoing by forcing it to repay money or even dissolve the organization itself, though the latter is highly unlikely. The IRS is also investigating the NRA and may remove its tax exempt status as a nonprofit—a move that would dramatically undercut its ability to solicit money from wealthy donors.
Meanwhile, the NRA is also facing scrutiny over the case of Maria Butina, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for serving as a foreign agent. She was accused of attempting to infiltrate the NRA, and it was revealed she had befriended NRA officials and put them in contact with Kremlin officials. The NRA has turned over a number of documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but the committee has not yet released its findings in the investigation.