A quarter of the members of the National Rifle Association’s remarkably large board have received some form of payment from the organization in recent years, the Washington Post reported Sunday night.
The high number of financial transactions, while not necessarily illegal or a violation of the NRA’s ethics rules, raises further questions about oversight by the 76-member board, which is in charge of the organization’s spending. The NRA has faced separate allegations of financial misconduct and is facing an investigation by the New York attorney general, who could strip the organization of its tax-exempt status if it is found to have violated the rules of nonprofit finances, potentially crippling the powerful organization reliant on funds from wealthy donors.
The Post reviewed tax filings, state charitable reports, and NRA correspondence and found that 18 of the board members, who have no term limits, collected some payment from the NRA in the past three years. The payments were for as much as $3 million and for services such as firearms training, consulting, speeches, writing for NRA publications, and purchases of various firearm-related products.
As long as the board members (and any family members who may have also received any money from the organization) received the payments at market value, the transactions would likely be considered legally acceptable. According to the Post, the NRA properly disclosed the payments, and under state and federal law, nonprofit board members can do business with their organizations if they follow certain guidelines.
The NRA told the Post that the board members were chosen for certain tasks and business transactions in part because the firearm advocacy world is a small one, and the individuals fit their needs most appropriately.
But given the NRA’s current scandals, the revelation does not look great. The large number of payments to NRA board members gives the appearance—and actual risk—of a conflict of interest. Already it had been revealed that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre charged hundreds of thousands of dollars to the nonprofit for luxury clothes and foreign travel, as well as $13,800 for a summer intern’s rent. LaPierre said the expenses were justified by his public appearances for the organization.
Oliver North, the former NRA president who was dramatically ousted in April after a standoff with LaPierre, reportedly also raised alarms of financial mismanagement, claiming that the organization was facing an “existential crisis” over exorbitant legal fees to a single attorney. In the leaked confidential memo dating to the week before his exit, North wrote that the NRA was being billed nearly $100,000 a day. North then pleaded for an audit of their payments to the attorney and alleged LaPierre had denied his requests for an independent review of the invoices.
(The NRA has argued that these allegations of misspending amounted to a smear against LaPierre. North, who is best known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, met his downfall when LaPierre accused him of trying to use allegations of financial impropriety to extort him into resigning. LaPierre, in his counter-accusations, has alleged that North was set to profit in a multimillion-dollar deal with the NRA’s former public relations agency. The NRA has also said its finances are in good condition.)
The investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James is not the only scrutiny facing the organization: The Senate Finance Committee has been looking into the NRA’s ties to Russia, made suspect by the activities of alleged Russian operative Maria Butina, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for serving as a foreign agent and who has been accused of attempting to infiltrate the NRA. The Senate inquiry has grown to include the allegations of self-dealing. The NRA maintains that these allegations are being peddled by gun control advocates in an effort to attack the organization.