After years of claiming nothing is wrong with purported lax financial oversight and rampant misuse of member funds, the National Rifle Association’s tax filing to the Internal Revenue Service for 2019 admits widespread abuse and fraud by top executives, including NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.
LaPierre remains in his job as NRA’s top staff member but is paying back hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursements to the non-profit entity that lost $12.2 million in operating funds last year — the fourth year in a row of massive losses.
“For years, Wayne LaPierre and his lieutenants skirted the law and pocketed millions from NRA coffers to fund lavish lifestyles that included private jets, pricey vacations, expensive meals and no-show contracts,” New York Attorney General Letita James, who is trying to shut down the association and wants to file criminal chartes, said this week. “Mr. LaPierre’s reimbursement of just a fraction of the millions he personally profited from indicates how the NRA went unchecked under his leadership.”
For the record, I know LaPierre and worked with NRA projects during my time as a political operative in the 1980s. Some of his top lobbyists were drinking buddies and they confirmed that LaPierre always played fast and loose with rules and the law.
The NRA admission in its tax filing is telling, says legal experts.
“This is the type of cleanup I would expect to see after a history of gross violations of nonprofit law,” says Philip Hackney, an associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh who worked at the IRS for five years until 2011 providing legal oversight of tax-exempt organizations. His comment was made to The Washington Post in its probe of NRA wrongdoing.
Since his leadership was challenged at a raucous annual meeting in the spring of 2019. LaPierre has weathered revelations that he spent hundreds of thousands of the nonprofit’s dollars on luxury menswear and travel, and that the NRA considered buying him a multimillion-dollar estate in Texas. Some board members and veteran staffers walked away in protest, accusing LaPierre and other executives of self-dealing and alleging that the group had strayed from its core mission of promoting firearm ownership.
“LaPierre would have stepped aside a long time ago if his concern was really for the institution,” said Rob Pincus, a lifetime NRA member who has led a campaign to overhaul the organization. “He remains a distraction and a detraction.”
“It’s a smart move by the NRA,” says New York lawyer and nonprofit expert Daniel Kurtz. “It’s better tha digging in their heels, but who knows how they came up with the numbers. It’s an admission of wrongdoing, for sure.”
The 2019 tax return was personally signed by LaPierre, which is unusual for a large nonprofit. Such documents are normally signed by the group’s treasurer.”
“He is putting himself on the line, under penalties of perjury, which is what you do if you are trying to get in someone’s good graces,” Hackney said.
The tax filing also names former head lobbyist Chris Cox and former president Oliver North as those who used association money for personal benefit. Cox and North are now cooperating witnesses for the New York state attorney general.
While NRA still claims it is a valid operation with a strong balance sheet, its membership has been dropping over the last few years and most many more during the pandemic. The organization has laid off staff and is being sued for nonpayment of bills.
Last week, New York insurance regulators announced NRS is barred from selling insurance in the state and must pay a $2.5 million civil penalty for “illegally marketing insurance to gun owners involved in a self-defense shooting.” That’s just the beginning, James says.
As a longtime gun owner, I was a lifetime member of NRA but resigned after learning that too much of the money paid by members was going to enrich the executives and not being used for member services.
NRA has also endorsed racists like former Virginia and Senator George Allen and that didn’t sit well at our house.
I’m sorry that I was ever involved with this fraudulent group of cheaters and deadbeats.