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The NRA is imploding, even as Trump is desperately trying to help it

Though it should be flying high in the era of Trump, the NRA is instead in a lot of trouble.

By Lisa Needham - April 29, 2019
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President Donald Trump takes the stage to speak at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Friday, April 26, 2019.

Things are not going very well for the NRA right now.

The gun lobbying group’s power should be at its apex with Trump in the White House. Instead, the NRA is facing internal struggles, external investigations, and plummeting income.

Last week at the NRA’s annual convention, Trump did his best to whip the audience into a frenzy by boasting about thwarting an imaginary “coup” against his presidency. But that good feeling didn’t last long.

On the same day Trump spoke, news broke that there was a massive power struggle among the leadership of the group. Wayne LaPierre, who has been the CEO of the NRA for almost 30 years, was asked to resign by right-wing hero Oliver North, who was, until this past weekend, the NRA’s president.

North alleged that LaPierre was at the center of financial improprieties and said he’d set up a committee to review those issues. LaPierre countered by saying that North had tried to blackmail him into leaving the NRA. LaPierre won this contest of wills, and North stepped aside, saying he wouldn’t run for another term as president.

The NRA’s problems don’t end there.

At the same time North and LaPierre were jousting for control, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that she was opening an investigation into the group’s nonprofit status.

James’ investigation has several bases. She’s looking into whether the NRA has engaged in unauthorized political activity, whether it has provided false or misleading regulatory disclosures, and whether there are issues with related-party transactions.

A related-party transaction occurs when a non-profit’s leaders engage in deals that are designed to enrich them personally rather than help the non-profit. In the NRA’s case, there are allegations that its leaders have a far too cozy relationship with the group’s public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. Ackerman and the NRA have a complicated relationship where Ackerman pays the salaries of several high-profile NRA personalities while the NRA, in turn, pays Ackerman millions of dollars for its services.

Trump is clearly unhappy about the news of James’ investigation. On Monday morning, he whined that that NRA is “under siege” by the state of New York, incoherently claiming that James and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are “illegally using the State’s legal apparatus” against the group. He also argued that the NRA should leave the “unfair” state entirely and “fight from the outside.”

As all of this internal strife plays out, Trump being in office doesn’t seem all that great for the NRA’s finances either. After a banner 2016, the group saw a massive drop in both fundraising and dues in 2017. That may be in part because it is easier to scare people into giving the NRA money when their Second Amendment rights feel more threatened under Democrats.

It’s worth remembering that the previous New York attorney general also investigated a high-profile charity that seemed to do a lot of shady related-party transactions.

That group, the Trump Foundation, shuttered itself voluntarily to avoid further issues. That outcome has to be weighing heavily on the minds of NRA’s leadership right now.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation. 


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