On April 12, the National Rifle Association filed suit in a Virginia court, accusing their long-time PR company, Ackerman McQueen, of failing to provide detailed billing, and failure to disclose contracts with NRA staff and officers that might demonstrate a conflict of interest, including an Ack-Mac contract with NRA President Ollie North.
As the news of the shocking lawsuit made the rounds of mainstream media and was just sinking in – especially to most of the members of the NRA Board of Directors, who had no advance warning about the suit – a new exposé on the shady dealings of NRA insiders was published by The New Yorker (www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/secrecy-self-dealing-and-greed-at-the-nra/). That article, shedding new light on lousy business, showed that this isn’t just NRA leaders in a nasty mess of their own making, but a deeply embedded cancer that has metastasized, putting the NRA itself in serious jeopardy.
During WWII, people held up two fingers and declared “V for Victory!” I have to admit that when I heard the news about the suit against Ack-Mac, I smiled. The thought of NRA brass and Ack-Mac executives going at each other in a cage match really tickled me. In celebration, I figuratively raised the familiar one-finger salute that has long represented our seemingly futile struggle with the NRA leadership, and transitioned it into the two-finger sign of the “V,” not for Victory, but for Vindication.
Over 20 years ago, my father, Neal Knox, as First Vice President of the NRA and just one year away from taking the reins as President, threw a red flag on the practices of Ack-Mac and Wayne LaPierre. He questioned the expensive, intrusive, and heavy-handed fundraising tactics, such as constant, over-hyped letters, phone calls, and fundraising letters sent by registered mail, and the exorbitant sums being paid to the PR company. He demanded reforms in the association’s fundraising methods and specifics on contracts and billing details involving Ack-Mac and other vendors. Both he and Second Vice President Albert Ross refused to sign the hefty, monthly checks being cut to Ack-Mac, and a major battle for control of the NRA ensued. It wasn’t like the 1977 Cincinnati fight for the soul and destiny of the organization. The new dust-up was between the Board and the staff for control of the organization’s checkbook.
The upshot of that battle was that Wayne won, Dad lost, and the fast-and-loose money games continued and just got worse. Charlton Heston was brought in to bump Dad from the leadership, and Wayne’s compensation rose rapidly from about $250,000 a year to almost $1,000,000.00. In the latest available IRS report from 2017, LaPierre’s total compensation was reported at $1.4 million, or about $117,000 per month, and a couple of years before that, he also got a distribution from his retirement fund of about $4 million, for a total compensation of more than $5 million that year. It’s worth noting that he’s receiving this at a time when the NRA is over $30 million in the red, and the retirement fund is in negative numbers to the tune of almost $60 million. Ack-Mack’s take from the NRA in 2017 was over $40 million.
Our goal has never been vengeance or retribution, but to alert NRA members and rouse the members of the NRA Board of Directors to fulfill their moral and legal obligations to the members, and put a stop to the chicanery.
Those efforts have, to a great extent, fallen on deaf ears. We have been vilified, belittled, and ignored by the majority of the board, and we’ve been publicly attacked by NRA leaders accusing us of trying to tear down the organization that we have been working so hard to save.
That’s why the lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen gave me a smile of vindication. It confirms many of the things that we have been saying for so long. But the celebration was tinged with concern about the harm the whole debacle would cause our historic organization. Then all of that turned to anger and a sense of doom as I read the exposé in The New Yorker.
Reporter Mike Spies works for Bloomberg’s anti-rights propaganda outlet The Trace and has collaborated with reporters and editors from a variety of mostly anti-rights newspapers and magazines like Mother Jones and the New York Times. Those connections and affiliations will cause many to dismiss this latest article as just more anti-gun propaganda. That would be a mistake. Spies did a thorough job of digging up sources [he clearly has a someone leaking him info at NRA or maybe Ackerman] and documentation to back up the critical points in his article, and he presents them with little spin or distortion. Calling on NRA members to ignore the message and focus on the messenger, won’t work this time. The article and its sources are too well documented and credible for that, and enemies of the NRA will undoubtedly pursue these leads with bulldog tenacity.
NRA members should be furious, and the Board of Directors should be terrified.
Even with my 40-year history in the NRA, I never imagined the abuses and neglect were so outrageous and rampant. The most significant revelation is that NRA employees and attorneys brought many of these issues to the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors, and the members of that committee did nothing to correct the problems. They didn’t alert fellow directors about the issues. They didn’t call executives and contractors out on the carpet for the abuses. They didn’t call for contract reviews, investigations, or disciplinary actions. Instead, they retroactively approved past actions that should only have been taken with their prior approval and did their best to contain the damaging information, helping to drive away dedicated NRA employees who did nothing other than try to inform them of problems.
“The emperor has no clothes!” – “Someone slap that kid!”
To get an idea of the depth and breadth of the theft, corruption, and abuse that has been going on at the NRA for the past 25-plus years, you need to read the entire article in The New Yorker, but here are some highlights:
- Remember that 1.4 million dollars being paid to Wayne LaPierre? At some point, a clause was added to his employment contract guaranteeing him payment as a speaker and consultant after he retires from NRA, at the full base salary he is being paid as Executive Vice President.
- Multiple NRA executives have left the organization and walked into $600,000 and $700,000 dollars a year consulting contracts for NRA.
- Wives, children, and other relatives of NRA executives and NRA contractors have routinely crisscrossed between the NRA and various vendors, drawing exorbitant salaries.
- Key vendors – like Ackerman McQueen – have been routinely paid on invoices that were incomplete or unspecific, and NRA employees questioning such payments were retaliated against.
The dollar figures involved are in the hundreds of millions, but the most critical paragraph in the article is this one:
“The memos urged the audit committee to ‘step up + fulfill its duties!,’ but it’s not clear what the board has done to root out malfeasance. James Fishman, a co-author of ‘New York Nonprofit Law and Practice: With Tax Analysis,’ a leading text on nonprofit law, told me, ‘There is no such thing as a director who doesn’t direct. You’re responsible to make yourself aware of what’s going on. If the board doesn’t know, they’ve breached their duty of care, which is against the law in New York,’ where the N.R.A. is chartered. According to Owens, the former I.R.S. official, New York State ‘could sanction board members, remove board members, disband the board, or close down the organization entirely.’” (Emphasis added – JK)
The memos mentioned were prepared by NRA’s director of tax and risk management, Emily Cummins, for an NRA Audit Committee emergency meeting last July. I’ve known Emily for years, and know that she was very loyal and committed to the NRA. I say “was” because Emily no longer works for NRA. I don’t know the circumstances of her departure but could venture a pretty good guess.
This is a collection of specific concerns raised to a committee of the NRA Board of Directors by a loyal NRA employee. It was acquired by the reporter and analyzed by an expert on New York nonprofit law and an expert on nonprofit tax regulations. Their assessment is that the Board of Directors’ failure to have weeded out these issues and addressed them, is – potentially criminal – dereliction of duty that could result in personal sanctions and the dissolution of the organization.
Are you listening now, NRA Directors? Personal sanctions. Removal from the Board. Dissolution of the NRA. All because you have refused to step up and fulfill your duties.
Ignoring warnings, blaming critics, covering for friends, and going along to get along, could bring the world’s most powerful organization for defending the right to arms, crashing to the ground. Continuing to deny and circling the wagons to protect against outside assaults, will not save the NRA, because the destroyer is inside the circle. Only decisive action to root out the corruption and return to the core values and principles of the organization can save it.
There’s no way to fix the problems without sustaining some pretty severe damage. I don’t know what kind of legal issues would be involved in dissolving existing contracts with vendors and employees, but drastic measures must be taken immediately. Those directors carrying the greatest culpability – members of the Audit Committee, the Finance Committee, and the Executive Committee – should resign. Had the Board not recently made recalls of directors and officers virtually impossible, I would start a recall drive against many of them.
What makes this whole situation even worse, is the fact that the NRA is chartered in New York. That means that New York law applies, and that means that the rabidly anti-NRA and anti-gun NY Attorney General Letitia James, working under the rabidly anti-NRA and anti-gun Governor Andrew Cuomo, will be in charge of the investigation and any “corrective” action. Does anyone think the benefit of the doubt for “good intentions” will play a significant role?
This is a case of greed, hubris, and blind loyalty leading to calamity. I honestly don’t know if the NRA will be able to survive.
There are some very good people on the NRA Board of Directors, and they need to step up now and get to the bottom of all of this. It’s going to be a mess, no matter how it’s handled, but taking aggressive action to cut out the cancer is the only way to save the organization.
Presidents or past-presidents of state associations might need to step up to help out. LaPierre needs to walk away without the golden parachute, and much of the executive staff needs to go with him. Virtually all outside NRA contracts beyond electric service and internet access, need to be canceled in the most cost-effective way possible.
I don’t expect to be in Indianapolis for the Members’ Meeting; I just can’t afford it, so I urge those who are going to be there, to demand answers from your board and staff in that open, formal setting. A motion should be made right at the outset to set a time certain on the official order of business for discussion of the corruption and mismanagement allegations. They will point to the press and try to say that discussing those matters shouldn’t be done in public, then they’ll dodge questions by saying that they can’t talk about ongoing litigation, or they’ll try to use parliamentary tricks to shut down the motion, but it’s your Association, and you have the right to be heard and get answers.
I don’t relish this situation. Yes, I’m glad to see Dad get his vindication, but not at such a high cost. I have been a Life Member of the NRA for 40 years. I paid full price for that membership, beginning with my first check from the Army after graduating from Basic Training, and I’ve dedicated countless hours over the years, trying to make the organization better and more effective. This is not a victory for Dad or me. Like the Notre Dame cathedral, I just hope we can save what’s left and rebuild.
But take heart. As I said in February during a speech at a rights rally in Phoenix, “the gun lobby is not a bunch of overpaid suits in Washington DC. If the NRA disappeared tomorrow, the gun lobby would still be just as powerful, because the gun lobby isn’t the NRA, it’s the NRA members and tens of millions of dedicated patriots just like you, scattered throughout this wide land.”
While the NRA is a powerful communication tool between rights supporters and their elected servants and losing that central conduit would be a significant blow, it would only be a temporary setback. With that fact in mind, I encourage readers to take steps now to be sure that you and your fellow rights supporters are in the loop for important rights-related news by subscribing to AmmoLand News email list. If you are already subscribed, get five more people to sign up. Be sure that you’re a member of a competent, state grassroots organization, and join and subscribe to email alerts from groups like The Firearms Coalition and GOA. Then take action when we ask you to make a call or send an email to your elected servants.
Let’s hope we can save the NRA. Contact the Directors and demand that they take responsibility and correct the problems. (They are listed in your magazine.) But more than anything else, be sure to keep contacting your politicians and letting them know that with or without the NRA, you are the gun lobby, and the gun lobby isn’t going away.
About Jeff Knox:
Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. His father Neal Knox led many of the early gun rights battles for your right to keep and bear arms. Read Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War.
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition has offices in Buckeye, Arizona and Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org.