David Dell’Aquila says he finally realized that his attempts to reform the National Rifle Association from within were doomed after a conversation he had with NRA President Carolyn Meadows (she hadn’t been given the top job yet at the time). It happened during a party for large donors like himself that was held before the Indianapolis annual meeting in April.
Dell’Aquila tells TTAG that he approached Meadows because he’d received information indicating that a high-ranking NRA employee was receiving payments from vendors to whom he directed business. Meadows asked where he heard that (he told her it didn’t matter). She then told him none of it was true.
Then Dell’Aquila said he asked Meadows — strictly hypothetically — if she had a problem with an NRA official collecting a salary from the Association while using a vendor with which he either had an ownership interest or received payments for business directed its way (i.e. kickbacks).
According to Dell’Aquila, Meadows told him, “That’s how it’s done in D.C. Everyone does it.”
That’s when he says he knew his year-long effort (it started following the 2018 Dallas annual meeting) to bring about change and accountability by working with NRA officers and employees was futile.
Dell’Aquila, a retired Nashville technology consultant, then set about developing a four-phase strategy to force EVP and CEO Wayne LaPierre and his supporters — both in management and on the board — out of their positions. That would allow the process to begin of making the NRA more effective, open, and accountable to its membership.
Dell’Aquila isn’t alone in this project. He says the people working with him are well-organized with substantial finances, resources and support, and they have legal help.
Phase One was to publicize his campaign. He did this primarily through an interview he gave to the New York Times that was then picked up by a number of other outlets.
In that interview, he announced the effort, already well under way, to persuade other large donors and supporters of the NRA to withhold dues, donations, planned giving (through estate planning), and ad revenue in NRA publications.
As of July 2 when the Times article ran, Dell’Aquila had obtained commitments to withhold more than $130 million. As of last weekend, that total had gown to over $162 million.
He called Phase Two “Operation Grass Roots.” That involved creating a web site (helpsavethenra.com) through which members can sign a petition to demand leadership change, accountability, and transparency.
When we talked, one of the aspects of the allegations about wrongdoing that clearly bothered Dell’Aquila most was the effect on regular members. People who send their hard-earned dollars in the form of small contributions and dues to support gun rights, only to have them wasted on custom suits, private planes, profligate spending and expensive white shoe attorneys to “fix” management mis-steps.
Phase Three is an effort to use a favorite NRA tactic against itself. Dell’Aquila has assigned each of the NRA’s 76 board members a letter grade based on how well — or not — they represent the interests of the organization and its members over those of its leadership.
As Dell’Aquila told TTAG, it’s the same way the NRA grades politicians and candidates according to their support of gun rights.
He stressed that these grades are “dynamic” and will be updated daily based on board members’ actions, such as yesterday’s letter from four members demanding an independent investigation of the org’s tens of millions in legal expenses paid to lawyer William Brewer.
On Saturday, Dell’Aquila sent a letter (PDF) to all NRA board members explaining his rationale and giving them their grades. He wrote,
Now, to those members of the Board of Directors who continue to argue that these allegations in the media are false, that “train has already left the station.” It is immaterial, at this point, not only to our rank-and-file members, but to the anticipated 65 million republican voters in the 2020 election, and both the attorneys general from New York and Washington, D.C.
The members of this grassroots effort will be requesting several votes of “no confidence” for Mr. LaPierre, each NRA officer, and Mr. Josh Powell [director of operations]. In addition, they will be requesting a vote to obtain an independent financial audit from one of the “Big Four” accounting firms.
It is important for each member of the Board of Directors to completely understand his or her responsibilities. For example, current NRA officers who have stated “I don’t know anything about that,” “that is the first time I’m hearing it,” “I trust Wayne completely,” etc., are not deemed within the law as valid acceptable legal defenses. It is your responsibility to know or take the necessary actions to obtain such knowledge.
Here is Dell’Aquila’s list of board members and their grades:
A- Advocates the replacement of CEO LaPierre and/or publicized one’s removal from committee’s due to questioning leadership, spending policies, etc.
B- Removed from committee(s) due to questioning leadership, spending policies, etc, but is not publicized
C- Insufficient oversight/direction to CEO LaPierre
D- Recently added to a committee(s) to limit oversight and fortify CEO LaPierre’s power
F- Supports CEO LaPierre and his leadership team with insufficient oversight
Dell’Aquila pointed out that board members have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the Association. In his view, that involves removing LaPierre and current management from office and investigating any questionable, excessive spending or outright wrongdoing.
Members who side with LaPierre, he told TTAG, have made a choice not only to avoid holding NRA officers accountable, but to also forego over $162 million in revenue — a clear breach of their fiduciary responsibilities. That, he said, could put them in legal jeopardy as part of the New York Attorney General’s investigation into the NRA’s finances and practices.
Which brings us to Phase Four. As he wrote to the board members,
Each of you will have an important decision to make on whether or not you are going to let Phase 4 play out in the media. Your decision should be made with the understanding of your duties and responsibilities as a faithful director to the NRA itself, and not Mr. LaPierre and his leadership team.
Dell’Aquila didn’t want to elaborate much about what Phase Four entails. He didn’t want to tip his hand, but told TTAG it’s a three-pronged effort that includes what he’s calling Operation Grass Roots, Operation Inside Out, and Operation Clean-Up.
Just what that involves isn’t clear, but he said once Phase Four starts, it will be difficult to stop. Given his comment about letting it “play out in the media,” it’s easy to speculate that it involves information about the board and/or NRA operations that NRA insiders would find embarrassing if made public.
As for the timing of Phase Four, Dell’Aquila doesn’t seem to be a patient man. He wants to return to the life of a retired consultant rather than leading an insurgency to preserve a healthy NRA and protect gun rights. While he didn’t want to be nailed down, it sounded like Phase Four would start in about ten days to two weeks assuming no further movement by the board.