When allegations of corruption, unchecked spending and self-dealing at the NRA finally broke into the open last year following the virtual street fight at the Indianapolis convention, we called the situation exactly what it has turned out to be; an existential threat to the organization. The situation was that serious because, due to inertia, inattention, negligence, or a mixture of the above, the NRA operated under a New York state charter.
That gave the elected officials of one of the most anti-gun states in the country control over the fate of the Association. Then the whole mess spilled out for all to see with the fight between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, the resulting revelations of spending on clothes, travel, apartments, and more. It became clear that most of the NRA’s scores of board members had no input or oversight over that spending.
A few board members tried to exercise the oversight the Association needed; people like Pete Brownell, Tim Knight, Esther Schneider, Allen West and a few others pushed Wayne LaPierre for information and a say in the Association’s operations. You know, the functions board members are supposed to actually perform.
All who dared to challenge the NRA’s top management were frozen out or exiled in a Stalin-like purge.
The drama in Indianapolis and the resulting media reports gave New York’s Attorney General, Letitia James, who’d campaigned on a promise of taking on the NRA, exactly the excuse she needed to begin a wide-ranging investigation into the NRA’s operations, an investigation that was always headed in one direction.
That process reached its predetermined destination when the Attorney General announced that she’s suing the NRA, seeking to dissolve the Association and put it out of business.
The NRA handed New York Attorney General Letitia James a pistol and stood right in front her. Yesterday, she pulled the trigger.
How can she do that? Well, as the New Yorker noted last April, under the state’s non-profit laws, board members have a fiduciary duty to the membership…one that few if any of them actually seemed able to or interested in performing.
James Fishman, a co-author of “New York Nonprofit Law and Practice: With Tax Analysis,” a leading text on nonprofit law, told me, “There is no such thing as a director who doesn’t direct. You’re responsible to make yourself aware of what’s going on. If the board doesn’t know, they’ve breached their duty of care, which is against the law in New York,” where the N.R.A. is chartered. According to [Marc] Owens, the former I.R.S. official, New York State “could sanction board members, remove board members, disband the board, or close down the organization entirely.”
And here we are.
The news of the New York AG’s move to chloroform the NRA was met with predictable reactions from gun owners and Second Amendment supporters. Plenty were outraged at the attack on the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. They called it a blatantly political move, and there’s little doubt that’s exactly what it is.
James had obviously coordinated her lawsuit with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. Through a miraculous feat of coincidence, Racine, another bitter enemy of the NRA, filed his own lawsuit yesterday, too. Racine had been investigating a separate entity, the NRA Foundation which was chartered in…wait for it…Washington, D.C. Racine’s lawsuit alleges unapproved loans from the Foundation to Main NRA to fund top executives’ pet projects.
So yes, the lawsuits and their timing — heading into the fall election for which the NRA had just pledged to spend “tens of millions” in the Trump reelection effort — were transparent political attacks aimed at both Trump and the nation’s most prominent supporter of gun rights.
But that doesn’t mean that what’s being alleged by James (or Racine) in her lawsuit isn’t true. She’s alleging wrongdoing by LaPierre, NRA corporate counsel and secretary John Frazer, retired CFO Wilson Phillips, and the NRA’s embattled former COO, Josh Powell. James’s suit asks for the four to be fined and reimburse millions they allegedly wrongfully received.
So for all of our readers who reacted by dismissing this as another prominent Democrat using her office to attack the NRA and, by extension, gun owners and gun rights, we would only remind you that both things can be true. The lawsuit(s) can be both a conveniently timed political hit job and justifiable on the merits based on actual, verifiable wrongdoing.
The second part of that will be up to a court to decide. James has subpoenaed reams of documents from scores of individuals including board members as well as current and former officers and employees, so she presumably has her prosecutorial ducks all lined up. The Association will be defended by the best attorneys members’ money can buy.
While everyone is innocent until proven guilty (no one has been charged with a crime, by the way) we’ve talked to enough people who are in a position to know who tell us that much of what has been alleged in the press and now in the New York AG’s lawsuit is based in reality. The very things the now-purged board members brought up are reflected in AG James’ complaint.
As for those five million or so members, most of them will probably continue to support LaPierre, his lieutenants and the sycophants he’s installed on the board to ensure he stays in the top job come hell or high water. At least until more details of what’s actually been happening on Waples Mill Road comes out in court.
As we’ve written a number of times, the cause of gun rights is best served by a strong, healthy and accountable National Rifle Association. Whatever you think of their current management or recent business practices, they’ve been the 800-pound gorilla in terms of wielding political influence where gun rights are concerned and are in the best position — along with other gun rights orgs — to defend and extend the cause of Americans’ gun rights.
Unfortunately, a strong, healthy and accountable National Rifle Association is not something anyone has seen for quite some time. The NRA has been in financial difficulty for years now, after going all-in on the 2016 election. Unforced errors like the disastrous Carry Guard program have also cost it dearly in time and legal expenses, resulting in reduced operations, salary cuts and layoffs.
Besides the NRA’s legion of enemies in politics, the press and the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex, the only person to benefit from the latest news will be attorney Willian Brewer to whom the Association has been shoveling tens of millions of dollars for years now — the very issue that Oliver North raised last year that got him canned. The money flow to Brewer and his firm will only accelerate now.
It’s possible, of course, that James has overplayed her hand. She could have simply gone after the four named individuals — either civilly or criminally — in an effort to force the NRA to clean up its act without trying to bring down the entire operation. That’s what an objective, non-politically motivated prosecutor would have done. But that’s not who conducted this investigation. James, after all, called the NRA a “terrorist organization.”
And just like that, Letitia James created an election wedge issue to motivate disillusioned Trump supporters. The election was going to about Democrat issues like the economy, taxes, unemployment, healthcare, Covid, voting rights. Now it will also be about the NRA and guns. SMH
— Truth Is (@Truth_IsElusive) August 6, 2020
News of the assaults on the NRA from New York and D.C. could serve to motivate the Association’s members and gun owners in general, as if they need any more motivation than a choice between the status quo and a guy who’s promised to make Beto O’Rourke his gun control czar. We’ll see in November.
In the mean time. LaPierre and the rest of his cadre will continue to do whatever it is they do in Fairfax while spending millions more to fend off the threat of dissolution. That means more members’ cash that could have gone to protecting and electing people this fall who support the right to keep and bear arms, not to mention the other functions like promoting the shooting sports and being “the premier firearms education organization in the world” which is ostensibly part of the Association’s mission.