The National Rifle Association’s power and influence have taken a hit over the past couple of years. News stories over have pointed to big financial woes for the weapon fetishists, with reports of cutbacks that have even included the elimination of free coffee at NRA headquarters. It has been apparent that the leadership of the NRA is morally corrupt to most outside observers for some time; but the moral corruption seems to have included good old run-of-the-mill corruption and mismanagement as well. This is according to a new and thorough investigation by The Trace’s Mike Spies, published in the New Yorker. Through private correspondence and interviews with NRA employees, Spies paints a picture of a dirty-dealing, greedy, and potentially fraudulent nonprofit teetering on the dangerous edge of collapse.
The crux of the financial issues for the NRA is its problematic relationship with the public relations outfit Ackerman McQueen, which pays out million-dollar salaries to people such as NRA president Oliver North* and spokesperson Dana Loesch. Spies talked with Marcus Owens, former head of the IRS division that looks into tax-exempt enterprises such as the NRA, and showed him some of the documentation he has obtained. Unsurprisingly, Owens found that, with regard to the NRA’s tax situation, the “litany of red flags is just extraordinary. The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen. There is a tremendous range of what appears to be the misuse of assets for the benefit of certain vendors and people in control.” If this is true, the NRA would not qualify for its tax-exempt status. And the NRA without its tax-exempt status is not a viable entity whatsoever.
Spies chronicles the evolution of the relationship between Ackerman and the NRA, as the two companies became more and more touchy-feely. According to Spies, people began seeing more luxury cars in the parking lots, more Italian suits, more opulence. Meanwhile, the expenses that the nonprofit has incurred does not match the money coming in. According to Spies, the NRA under Ackerman McQueen has developed into for the most part a public relations and lobbying firm, unable to pull in more members while spending millions on failed initiatives. And Spies has memos and insider reports on the game-playing being done for the company’s audits, showing how tangled the web of payments to “vendors” is. Emily Cummins was the association’s 12-year-veteran managing director of tax and risk management; she left in November of last year.
Cummins explained to the board that Ackerman and other venders were generating enormous expenses and getting paid through multiple entities, in a way that obscured payments. One such arrangement involved a company called Membership Marketing Partners, which provides direct-mail fund-raising. In 2017, the N.R.A. paid M.M.P. nearly twelve million dollars. At the same time, it directed almost eight hundred thousand dollars to a firm called Allegiance Creative Group, for “fundraising counsel.” Allegiance doesn’t have a Web site, but, according to state filings, at least ten of its fifteen employees also work at M.M.P. The president and C.E.O. of both companies is Gurney Sloan, who previously worked as a senior vice-president at Ackerman McQueen. This kind of arrangement is not illegal, but, as the former I.R.S. manager Marc Owens told me, “Multiple names for the same entity suggest an effort to disguise the extent of contact. Most organizations have centralized accounting so they can track how much is owed.”
That’s payments to a firm without a website in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for things something called “fundraising counsel.” There are consultants with salary stipulations that literally say they don’t have to work or show their work but must be paid over almost half a million dollars a year. Everything about the NRA feels like a swindle. It is not a stretch to believe that the NRA found itself making desperate deals with probable foreign spies.
The NRA now finds itself, without its Republican lapdogs in control of the House, being investigated for all kinds of illegal activity involving campaign finance. With the potential for more and completely warranted investigations so near, will there be a whistleblower or two that might expose an even more seedy operation underneath all of the semi-automatic hoopla? These additional financial strains, coupled with more gun safety legislation momentum, mean that the future is looking dire for the guys that told everyone to pry guns out of their cold dead hands. Maybe we can pry their guns out of their handcuffed, arraigned, tried, and convicted hands? The NRA has told Spies, through a lawyer, that it will not comment on his reporting other than to say that it has “serious concerns” about it.
Thoughts and prayers, guys. Thoughts and prayers.