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The NRA Is in Disarray: Here’s What You Need to Know

Last updated .

Over the past year, stories about the National Rifle Association (NRA) have spilled into the light of day, painting a picture of an organization in disarray. The NRA seems to be teetering on the brink, hemorrhaging both money and support. How did we get here? The trail is long and full of infighting, flirting with foreign governments, and cuts to the office coffee budget.

Originally released in July 2019, we’re continuing to update this list so we can all make sense of the extent of the NRA’s disarray.

Illegal Campaign Conduct

  • FEC complaints. According to a broad range of election and advertising records, the NRA appears to have illegally coordinated with multiple political campaigns—violating federal law that prevents independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with campaigns. Four complaints filed at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Giffords accused the NRA of illegally coordinating with the campaigns of multiple GOP senate candidates in the 2014, 2016, and 2018 election cycles. [The Trace]
  • Shell companies and Trump. Giffords and CLC also filed FEC complaints documenting illegal campaign coordination involving the NRA and the Trump presidential campaign. The group spent $25 million, mostly on television ads, through the same companies—and often the same executives—who placed spots for the Trump campaign, violating well-established campaign finance laws. [HuffPost]
  • Giffords lawsuit. The FEC has dragged its feet on addressing these allegations, so Giffords and CLC sought to compel the agency to investigate these millions of dollars in illegal, unreported, and excessive in-kind contributions by filing a lawsuit against the FEC. In October 2021, a federal judge ruled that the FEC has 30 days to take action on the complaints. After no action was taken, on November 2, 2021, Giffords sued the NRA. [ABC News and Washington Post]


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Financial Woes

  • NRA PAC donations plummeted before the 2022 midterms. Far fewer NRA members donated large amounts than previously, with the number of donations totaling more than $200 dropping 45% from the 2018 midterms. This slump is even more significant given there is a Democrat who supports stronger gun laws in the White House, which typically fuels donations. [The Trace]
  • Court ruling allows New York attorney general to seek hefty penalties from NRA. A judge has allowed New York Attorney General Letitia James to continue seeking two large penalties against the NRA: millions in back-salary from its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, and an independent monitor who would oversee the gun lobby’s finances. This is yet another blow to the NRA in Attorney General James’s two-year lawsuit. [Business Insider]
  • Judge dismisses claims that New York lawsuit is a “witch hunt.” Judge Joel Cohen swiftly dismissed the NRA’s claims that the New York lawsuit against it is a “malicious retaliation campaign,” allowing the lawsuit to move forward. New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the organization in 2020 over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for questionable expenditures, including lavish personal trips . [AP]
  • NRA member revenue hits 15 year low. According to a financial report released at the NRA’s latest convention in Houston, NRA member revenue has plunged to lows not seen since 2006. CEO Wayne LaPierre defended this drop by blaming gas prices and inflation, despite the fact that the most recent membership revenue decline began in 2018. Also included in the report is a staggering $52 million—or 21% of total spending—on legal fees and related costs in 2021 alone. [The Trace]
  • NRA withdraws federal lawsuit. The National Rifle Association has withdrawn its federal lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James, where it alleges she violated the organization’s constitutional right and asks for a jury to determine it’s been operating lawfully in the state. [CNN]
  • NRA bankruptcy case dismissed. A federal bankruptcy judge dismissed an effort by the National Rifle Association to declare bankruptcy on Tuesday, ruling that the gun rights group had not filed the case in good faith. [NPR]
  • Big investment with few returns. Finances have long been a problem for the NRA as their returns on investment continue to flounder. Despite spending $9.6 million on lobbying Congress over the last two years, the top five bills that the organization identified as legislative priorities were not signed into law. [Bloomberg]
  • Excessive discretionary spending. News reports revealed that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre charged more than $240,000 of travel expenses to the organization’s longtime ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, and that LaPierre received suits costing more than $200,000 purchased at an upscale clothing store in Beverly Hills, courtesy of Ackerman McQueen. [The Wall Street Journal]
  • Leadership payouts. Wayne LaPierre wasn’t the only NRA executive benefiting from large payouts from the organization. About one-quarter of the NRA board, a body that is supposed to be unpaid, collected money from the group through various contracts and agreements that have little to do with the NRA’s core mission. [The Washington Post]
  • Frozen pensions and underpaid employees. Compared to the seven-figure salary of Wayne LaPierre, rank-and-file staffers have been paid below market rate, and had their pensions frozen in 2018. [NPR]
  • Questionable transactions by leadership. In July of 2018, NRA accountants put together a document detailing issues that needed to be addressed by the association’s audit committee. The main area of concern was questionable transactions involving top NRA vendors and executives. [The New Yorker]
  • Investigation into misuse of charitable funds. In order to keep its finances steady, the NRA increasingly relied on cash infusions and other transactions from its foundation, with at least $206 million transferred in the last decade. This raised significant questions about whether that money was being used for charitable purposes, as required by law, and not to help finance the NRA’s political activities. [New York Times]
  • Conflicts of interest. The NRA’s charitable foundation also made undisclosed donations to a Northern Virginia organization called Youth for Tomorrow, of which Wayne LaPierre’s wife is a former president and current board member—raising questions about the group’s failure to disclose the donations and possible conflicts of interest. [The New Yorker]
  • Reduced funding for core activities. Despite the fact that the NRA is an organization founded on the values of responsible gun ownership, the NRA’s financial woes have forced it to cut funds for gun training. From 2017 to 2018, allocations for safety and marksmanship dropped from $42.6 million to $32.7 million. [Washington Post]
  • Expensive litigation. A lawsuit the NRA filed against the State of New York has come attached with a heavy price tag. In a fundraising letter sent to members, LaPierre warned that efforts by New York insurance regulators that stopped the NRA from illegally selling insurance could shut down the group “very soon.” In court filings, the NRA claimed to have “suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages” as a result of the insurance regulators’ enforcement actions. [The Daily Beast]
  • DC AG follows lead of the NY AG. The New York Attorney General has not been alone in investigating wrongdoing at the NRA: the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia issued subpoenas to the NRA to determine if the group violated DC’s nonprofit act as well. With the group spending $24 million in legal fees in 2018 and early 2019, and ending 2018 $10.8 million in the red, it’s not clear if the organization’s financial troubles will let up any time soon. [Washington Post]
  • Plans to buy Wayne LaPierre a mansion. Reports revealed that Wayne LaPierre feared for his life after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and determined that the solution was to have the NRA buy him a $6 million Dallas mansion, with Ackerman McQueen assisting in facilitating the transaction and maintaining the property after closing. While the deal ultimately fell through, had it not, the organization would have been a 99% owner of LaPierre’s residence. [The Wall Street Journal]
  • Expensive private flights. For years, Wayne LaPierre employed a California travel agent to book his private flights. Through a complicated financial web of retainer payments and Ackerman McQueen reimbursements, Gayle Sanford, an unregistered travel agent who was accused in a 2009 lawsuit of defrauding small-business owners out of money, arranged travel for LaPierre, as well as his wife and niece. [The Wall Street Journal]
  • Subpoenas issued to investigate suspected financial misconduct. New York Attorney General James continues to root out the secrets in the NRA’s cabinets. In a newly issued subpoena, the AG is examining at least four dubious practices of the group, involving campaign finance, payments made to board members, and tax compliance. Tax experts raised concerns based on the NRA’s recent tax filings showing the diversion of $36 million from the NRA Foundation to the NRA.The recent subpoena provides a hint as to where the eight-month investigation might be headed. [The New York Times]
  • Over 60 layoffs. On March 22, the NRA announced that it “would be implementing a number of permanent and temporary staff reductions along with other cost-cutting measures” in response to the COVID-19 crisis. [Politico]
  • 20% employee pay cuts. One of the NRA’s cost cutting measures in response to the COVID crisis is having hourly workers cut back to four-day work weeks, and cutting salaried staffers’ pay by 20%. [NPR]
  • Exorbitant legal fees. In a brief filed in federal court, attorneys for Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s former ad agency, allege that the NRA has paid attorney William A. Brewer III and his law firm over $54 million in the past two years, contributing to the financial strain that led to layoffs. [The Trace]
  • Failed attempts to challenge gun shop closures. A federal judge dismissed the National Rifle Association’s lawsuit challenging New York’s decision to close gun stores in the state in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. US District Judge Mae D’Agostino said the NRA lacked standing to challenge a March 20 executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo requiring the closure of gun stores in the state because they were “non-essential” businesses. [Reuters]
  • Hollywood producer entangled in financial abuses. An Emmy-award winning Hollywood producer with longtime ties to the National Rifle Association has emerged as a major figure in the New York attorney general’s case alleging corruption and spending abuses at the nonprofit gun-rights group. A lawsuit filed last week by Attorney General Letitia James against the NRA alleges that the producer, David McKenzie, was the “principal stakeholder” in four large NRA vendors that together were paid $100 million by the NRA in recent years. [Fox Business]
  • Wayne LaPierre under IRS investigation. The Internal Revenue Service is investigating longtime National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre for possible criminal tax fraud related to his personal taxes, according to people familiar with the matter. [Wall Street Journal]
  • NRA fined $2.5 million by State of New York. The National Rifle Association agreed to a five-year suspension of its insurance business in New York State and will pay a $2.5 million civil fine to settle charges alleging that the organization offered insurance to members without a license and concealed the fact that it routinely kept some premiums for itself. [The Guardian]
  • Son of Tree of Life victims sues NRA. A man whose parents were killed in the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue massacre has sued the National Rifle Association, claiming the gun lobby radicalized accused shooter Robert Bowers with “white supremacist conspiracy theories.” [Trib Total Media]
  • NRA declares bankruptcy. Seeking an end-run around an investigation by the New York attorney general, the National Rifle Association said Friday that it was declaring bankruptcy and would reincorporate in Texas. The gun group was set up in New York after the Civil War. [New York Times]

Russian Ties

  • NRA delegation visits Moscow, sponsored by Russian gun group. In 2015, a Russian gun rights group, Right to Bear Arms, sponsored an NRA delegation to visit Moscow. Present on the trip were former NRA President David Keene, soon-to-be-president Peter Brownell, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, NRA donors Jim Gregory and Arnold and Hilary Goldschlager, and Jim Liberatore, the president and CEO of the Outdoor Channel. [The Daily Beast]
  • Links to foreign espionage. The Moscow trip was organized by Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician who ran Right to Bear Arms, and Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who was sentenced in April 2019 for failing to register as a foreign agent. [Washington Post]
  • Email evidence. The trip involved NRA executives meeting with senior Kremlin officials. In the years since the visit, the NRA has attempted to distance itself from the visit and the group’s ties to Russia. However, uncovered emails revealed that NRA employees worked directly with Butina to coordinate travel arrangements. [ABC News]
  • Foreign donors. Though they deny the funds were used for election activity, the NRA admitted to the Senate Finance Committee that it had received roughly $2,500 “from people with Russian addresses” or Russian nationals living in the US during the 2016 cycle. [New York Times]
  • Congressional investigation. In her plea deal, Butina stated her goal was to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics.” The FBI has reportedly looked into allegations that Torshin and other Russians may have funneled funds to the NRA as part of the $30 million it spent to support Trump’s election. Since these revelations, congressional investigators have begun investigating the full extent of the relationship between the NRA and Moscow. [The Guardian]

Leadership Infighting

  • N.R.A. Chief Kept Bankruptcy Filing Secret.Wayne LaPierre, the embattled chief executive of the National Rifle Association, said on Wednesday that he had kept his organization’s recent bankruptcy filing secret from almost all its senior officials, including its general counsel, chief financial officer and top lobbyist. He also did not inform most of the N.R.A.’s board. [New York Times]
  • Concerns over inflammatory NRATV. In May of 2018, the NRA named Oliver North as the new president of the organization. North’s appointment came two years after the debut of NRATV, created by Ackerman McQueen, the ad firm that worked with the NRA for more than 40 years. The new channel began to worry longtime NRA allies and employees with its increasingly inflammatory rhetoric —including depictions of Thomas the Tank Engine, the children’s cartoon character, in a Ku Klux Klan hood. [New York Times]
  • Oliver North’s coup. North used his position as president, typically a ceremonial role, to align himself with Ackerman McQueen. North was paid millions of dollars to work for the firm. Then, in an attempt to oust LaPierre, North accused him of mishandling NRA funds and threatened to go to the board with incriminating information. [HuffPost]
  • LaPierre fires back. LaPierre reacted to North’s coup attempt by writing a letter to the NRA’s board informing them of North’s effort to remove him as chief executive of the association. He accused North of being more loyal to Ackerman McQueen than the NRA, suggesting the extortion attempt was a form of payback for the lawsuit the NRA filed against them. [Rolling Stone]
  • LaPierre prevails. LaPierre won the power struggle and Oliver North resigned as president. In a letter read at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis in April 2019, North said he believed the NRA should establish a committee to review the group’s finances, which constitute a “clear crisis” that “needs to be dealt with. [Washington Post]
  • NRA files suit against North. In the aftermath of the leadership struggle, the NRA filed a lawsuit in New York against North over the failed takeover and his secret fiduciary relationship with Ackerman McQueen, stating “simply put, the NRA exists to fight for the Second Amendment—not pay other people’s bills.” [Courthouse News]
  • Chris Cox forced out. Longtime NRA lobbyist Chris Cox didn’t escape the infighting unscathed. The NRA forced Cox out after ending its relationship with Ackerman McQueen. It turns out Cox picked the losing side in the power struggle. He resigned from his post when a lawsuit against Oliver North revealed that Cox participated in the attempt to oust LaPierre. [The New York Times]
  • LaPierre quashes dissent. Three NRA board members sent a letter to NRA officials declaring their confidence in the organization’s leadership shattered. In return, on August 2, 2019, each was stripped of his committee position. [Washington Post]
  • More board member resignations. Former Oklahoma Congressman Dan Boren resigned his seat on the NRA board of directors. Boren, who has been implicated in a number of lawsuits, was the latest victim to fall in the ongoing battle between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, and the eighth board member to resign between May and November 2019. [Newsweek]
  • Loss of major donors. Fed up with mismanagement among NRA leadership, legacy donors scaled back their pledges. Donors like Joe Olson, who committed to giving millions from his estate to the gun lobby, pulled their contributions as news of scandals inside the organization continue to pile up. [Associated Press]
  • Leadership exodus. An analysis by The Trace found that since April 2019, 21 people part of the NRA’s leadership—executives, board members, attorneys, and other staff—left the organization. [The Trace]
  • Expensive campaign to keep Wayne LaPierre in power. In a podcast episode released in July, the wife of an NRA employee described how he uses his position to lobby NRA members to vote for board candidates who are allied with Wayne LaPierre, including paying tens of thousands of dollars each year for volunteers to be flown to the NRA convention to encourage members to back LaPierre’s favored board candidates. [The Trace]
  • Former NRA exec Joshua Powell talks corruption. “The NRA is in a pretty bad death spiral right now and those are very hard to turn around,” Powell told NPR in an interview. “The finances of the NRA are in shambles,” Powell writes, portraying the 148-year-old gun rights group as part of “the grifter culture of Conservative Inc.” [NPR]
  • Despite resistance, LaPierre retains power. Undeterred by the detailed evidence of fraud and self-dealing, in October 2021 the NRA reelected Wayne LaPierre as executive vice president and CEO. Only days earlier, NRA board member and director Roscoe Marshall called the corruption allegations against LaPierre and others highly credible. [CNN and Bloomberg]

NRA v. Ackerman McQueen

  • Lawsuit over Ackerman McQueen’s financial records. The NRA responded to Attorney General James’s initial investigation by asking for the financial records of its contractors, including Ackerman McQueen. According to the NRA, the firm refused to turn over financial documents. In April 2019, the NRA sued Ackerman McQueen, accusing the firm of concealing details of how it used the $40 million it received annually from the NRA. [New York Times]
  • Lawsuit over NRA’s public image. After Ackerman McQueen-linked NRA President Oliver North attempted a coup within the NRA and allegedly attempted to extort Wayne LaPierre (see Leadership Infighting above), the NRA filed a separate lawsuit claiming the advertising firm worked “to tarnish and ultimately destroy the public image of the NRA and its senior leadership.” [The Daily Beast]
  • Ackerman McQueen’s countersuit. Ackerman McQueen countersued the NRA for $50 million. The firm claimed it had already given the NRA sufficient access to its financial records and that the NRA only brought the initial lawsuit in order to find cause to terminate its contract with Ackerman McQueen. [The Daily Beast]
  • NRATV cancelled. In June 2019, the NRA cleaned house—ending its relationship with Ackerman McQueen and shutting down NRATV, thus ending the contract of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch. [The New York Times]
  • NRA settle in lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen. After a protracted legal fight, in which each side was seeking more than $50 million in damages, a confidential settlement was reached in March 2022, just before the case was scheduled to go to trial. While the parties have not disclosed the settlement details, a New York forensic auditor’s report states that the NRA paid $12 million to its former PR firm. [The Trace]
  • NRA files new, secret lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen. After settling its public legal battle with its former PR firm in 2022, the NRA has since filed a new lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen and one of its subsidiaries. While federal courts must usually justify sealing an entire case like this, there have been no comments as to why this case has been shielded from the public. [The Trace]

Additional Controversies

  • LaPierre tricked into gun violence prevention video. A gun violence prevention group has released videos in which they trick famous pro-gun figures into addressing a sea of empty chairs, representing children and teenagers who were shot and killed before they could graduate from high school. [NBC]
  • Top lobbyist faces ethics investigation. In July, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer faced a hearing before the Florida Commission on Ethics about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from the NRA, which she failed to disclose for over a decade on her required lobbyist compensation reports. [The Florida Bulldog]
  • “Murder Insurance” lawsuit. The New York State Department of Financial Services alleges that the NRA engaged in the unlicensed sale of insurance in New York and violated laws against deceptive marketing when advertising its Carry Guard insurance program, which claimed to cover criminal defense costs, an insurance service which is illegal in New York. [The Trace]
  • In the wake of Columbine. In November 2021, it was revealed in secret recordings obtained by NPR that leaders of the NRA struggled with how to respond after the Columbine shooting in 1999. On the tapes, officials are heard rejecting a fund for victims and settling on a destructive message that has shaped the organization’s response to mass shootings in the decades since. [NPR]
  • LaPierre lied about his yacht trip. When questioned by New York’s attorney general about his alleged acceptance of lavish gifts, LaPierre testified under oath that a luxury yacht he used in the Bahamas in 2013, provided by an NRA contractor for free, was for a “security retreat” because he believed his life was in imminent danger. He failed to disclose that his niece was getting married in the Bahamas, and that he and his wife used the yacht to attend the wedding and cruise around the Caribbean. In fact, LaPierre failed to list free yacht trips on NRA internal disclosure forms, as required by the organization’s rules and New York State law, for almost 10 years. [New Yorker]
  • NRA board member subpoenaed by January 6 committee. The US House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol issued another round of subpoenas in late January 2022, targeting individuals accused of submitting falsified Electoral College paperwork as part of an unsuccessful attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election results. The list of individuals subpoenaed included Bill Bachenberg, who has been on the NRA’s Board of Director’s since 2005. [Salon]
  • NRA convention held just days after Uvalde shooting. The NRA went forward with its 2022 convention in Houston, just days after a gunman took 21 lives at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Numerous commitments pulled out of the convention in the wake of the tragedy, including Texas Republicans and the company that manufactured the gun used in the Uvalde massacre. The NRA defended its plans to go ahead with the convention by stating that convention attendees would “reflect on the attack.” [NPR]
  • NRA’s “Ring of Freedom” members allow the organization to act as a front for the gun industry. While the NRA hosted its annual convention in Houston just days after the Uvalde massacre, it simultaneously hosted a shadow convention for members of its “Ring of Freedom,” so they could meet in a private suite, enjoy additional luxuries, and discuss the organization’s next moves. Primarily the gun lobby’s biggest donors, members of the Ring of Freedom have access to special events and private meetings, and they allow the NRA to act as a front for the gun industry itself. [Rolling Stone]
  • NRA secretly influenced the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. When the Supreme Court handed down its first major Second Amendment decision in nearly a decade in June 2022, limiting the ability of state governments to decide who can carry a gun in public, 49 amicus briefs were submitted in support of the NRA’s argument. Nearly a quarter, however, were from people and institutions to whom the NRA had given millions of dollars. Only one of the briefs disclosed this financial connection, meaning that the justices and the public were largely unaware that the NRA financially supported these “independent voices.” [Politico]
  • NRA tweets appalling post on the Fourth of July. The same day that an armed citizen killed seven people and injured dozens more in Highland Park, Illinois, the NRA tweeted that American celebrations of Independence Day are the result of arming citizens. The tweet was not deleted, and it gained attention as residents of the town were sheltering in place during the manhunt for the shooter. [HuffPost]
  • NRA has lost roughly one million members since its peak in 2018. Membership levels have hovered at about 5 million for the past few years, but new financial documents detail the organization’s 12% drop over the course of about a year and a half. The loss of membership contributed to an overall revenue erosion. [The Trace]
  • Republican governor offers harsh criticism of NRA. After close work with and praise for the NRA, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee condemned the organization’s interest in using involuntary commitment laws “to round up mentally ill people and deprive them of other liberties.” In the wake of a school shooting in Nashville—and against NRA and GOP opposition—Governor Lee has proposed commonsense gun safety legislation to keep firearms away from people who could hurt themselves or others. [AP News
  • The NRA continues to prioritize politics over gun safety. The NRA spending on education and training has decreased by 77% since 2014. Andrew Lander, who spent 13 years shaping the NRA’s standard-setting firearms training programs, said the NRA has prioritized political aims at the expense of its fundamental mission. [Rolling Stone]


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