The Corner

Law & the Courts

The NRA’s Board of Directors Faces Big, High-Stakes Decisions

A banner at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis shows (from left) CEO Wayne LaPierre, legislative director Chris Cox, and president Oliver North, April 27, 2019. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Indianapolis, Ind. — As the most dramatic National Rifle Association annual meeting approaches its conclusion, the organization’s board of directors is now forced to confront several interconnected problems.

Start with the allegations of “sweetheart deals and opaque financial arrangements.” While NRA members may be instinctively suspicious of reporting coming from The New Yorker, it’s obvious the magazine’s sources are former employees of the NRA and its major public relations and advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen. Some sources offered their criticism on the record. (“Most (NRA) staffers think that Ackerman is too expensive,” Aaron Davis, who spent a decade working in the NRA’s fund-raising department, told me. “They think they’re just using the NRA to make a massive profit.”) The NRA’s recent lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen, demanding access to documents about how the firm is spending its money on behalf on the NRA public relations efforts, indicates that at least some people within the organization think the allegations of financial improprieties and mismanagement are a genuine concern.

Oliver North is departing as NRA president; his farewell letter indicated that he still feels loyal to the membership but offered an ominous warning. He said that in September 2018 NRA board members and donors expressed concern to him about the amount of money paid to Ackerman McQueen. According to North, they told him they wanted a full accounting, and that they had been rebuffed by the firm repeatedly. “A series of articles in The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and New York Times alleged financial mismanagement by senior NRA officers. If true, the NRA’s nonprofit status is threatened… There is a clear crisis. It needs to be dealt with immediately and responsibly.” No longer formally connected to the organization, and indicating that he’s been pushed out, he may be eager to publicly offer a version of events deeply unflattering to NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. But the New Yorker article cited two NRA sources who contended North was paid roughly a million dollars a year through Ackerman, to produce a television show that so far has produced only three episodes. Some may ask whether North was benefitting from the costly relationship with Ackerman that now concerns him so much.

Does Wayne LaPierre stay on as executive vice president? The current mess developed on his watch, and North accused LaPierre of charging more than $200,000 of wardrobe expenses to an NRA vendor. (LaPierre said the expenses covered a period going back 15 years – but that still comes out to $13,333 per year on wardrobe expenses.)

The 76-member board will debate LaPierre’s fate when it meets Monday. Suspending or ousting LaPierre would require three-quarters of the board to vote for his removal, according to the NRA’s bylaws, a high bar to clear. But according to those same bylaws, “no vote on removal may be taken unless at least fifteen days notice in writing shall have been given to the officer of the proposed removal and of any charges preferred if the proposed removal is for cause.” The bylaws also require the officer threatened with removal to be “accorded a full hearing and may be represented by counsel.”

LaPierre fended off a challenge back in 1997 as well. Judging from the reaction to LaPierre’s remarks at the convention, many of the rank-and-file members who attended still enthusiastically support him, and he enjoys a reservoir of goodwill.

One big question the board of directors will have to resolve Monday is who will replace North as the organization’s president. One figure to watch is former congressman Allen West, who told the Washington Free Beacon’s Stephen Gutowski that the NRA needs an “internal audit” and that “ it’s very important that the board reassert more of its control and power based upon the bylaws so that we don’t have any of these, you know, surprises that pop up.”

New York state attorney general Letitia James is probably going to make the impending investigation as lengthy, painful and embarrassing as possible for the NRA. As Tim Mak lays out, the NRA can’t simply dissolve its charter and registration from New York to a state with a friendlier attorney general. The NRA’s board of directors may prefer to enter the investigative phase with new leadership, unconnected to the current allegations.

Can the relationship between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen recover? (Considering how LaPierre accuses Ackerman McQueen of trying to oust him, probably not if LaPierre remains as executive vice president.) If the NRA cuts ties to Ackerman, does NRATV disappear entirely? Does the NRA go out and hire a new company to produce programming, or decide to produce it in-house?

If James’ investigation finds serious financial impropriety, how severe would the legal consequences be? (Investigations launched by James’ predecessor led to the dissolution of the Trump Foundation.)

And if the NRA is spending so much time, energy and money dealing with this investigation… how much will be left over to focus upon the 2020 elections?

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