Every passing day seems to bring new signs of financial trouble for the NRA, all of it self-inflicted. It seems the primary purpose of the group is to provide Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre with the lifestyle he has become accustomed to. Why does the NRA’s top shouting head need $275,000 worth of clothing from a Beverly Hills boutique? Why are the NRA’s gun-loving militia members on the hook for a quarter million dollars worth of LaPierre family trips to the Bahamas and other resort destinations? By all means, there’s probably no higher and better use of crackpot gun nut money than to piss it away on top-end suits and other frivolities—better that than ammunition, after all—but when you’ve reached the point that even Iran-Contra figure Oliver North calls you out as hopelessly corrupt, it’s hard to imagine the story ending well. (Luckily for LaPierre, most of the NRA’s remaining members appear to be deeply stupid.)
Most of the sketchiest expenses revolve around the relationship between top NRA officials and advertising firm Ackerman McQueen, an arrangement that looks suspiciously like a way for both sides to siphon funds to the other. Investigators are now also looking at millions in cash funneled to the group from its affiliated “charitable” foundation.
Originally, the N.R.A. promised to provide free office space and staff when it set up the foundation in 1991, but it now charges more than $6 million a year for that. Outright transfers from the foundation listed for charitable purposes have also risen fivefold since 2001, and exceed $100 million since 2012.
If any of that cash went to the NRA’s lavish political spending, those transfers would be illegal.
At this point, however, it’s hard to pin down exactly which of the NRA’s troubles might count as the worst. The closeness of multiple NRA officials to a now-exposed Russian agent continues to be probed; the new news that the NRA has shorted its pension obligations by over $40 million in 2019, while still dishing out millions to NRA leadership, is going to cause further fury among the rank and file. (Pension benefits were frozen in 2018.)
So far, LaPierre and his his allies are maintaining their tight control. And that’s good news for NRA opponents: With any luck they’ll run the whole thing into the ground, federal investigations or no.