New York Attorney General Seeks To Dissolve NRA

Aug 6, 2020
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The attorney general for the state of New York, Letitia James, is seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association, which is registered as a nonprofit in her state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LETITIA JAMES: It's clear that the NRA has been failing to carry out its stated mission for many, many years and instead has operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality.

SHAPIRO: An 18-month-long investigation by her office found evidence of fraud and abuse by top NRA executives. James filed the lawsuit today, claiming financial misconduct in the millions of dollars. Joining us to talk about this is Tim Mak with NPR's investigations team.

Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: What is the attorney general outlining in this lawsuit?

MAK: Well, she says that she found millions of dollars' worth of improperly spent charitable funds, that NRA executives misused this money for personal gain, to award contracts to friends and family and provided contracts to former employees to ensure loyalty. Her lawsuit also claims that millions of dollars over just three years - these costs in the millions of dollars - contributed to the NRA losing more than $64 million in total over that time frame. She said that there are dozens and dozens of examples of misconduct - lavish meals, private jets, all-expense-paid safaris - all for the benefit of executives and all paid for by the nonprofit organization.

SHAPIRO: She listed a number of financial violations specifically by Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, a recognizable figure at the NRA. What are some of those?

MAK: Right. So LaPierre has been the top figure at the organization for nearly 30 years. The New York attorney general highlighted more than $1.2 million in expense reimbursements over the last four years, including gifts for friends, travel expenses, memberships at golf clubs and hotels. It also alleges that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private plane trips, including for extended family when he was not present. He traveled to Africa with his wife on a safari gifted by an NRA vendor. He spent more than $3.6 million on luxury black car services and travel consultants just in the past two years. He also allegedly set himself up with a post-employment or retirement package worth 7 million - $17 million. And the NRA's board never approved that.

SHAPIRO: What's the response from the NRA today?

MAK: Well, they've said in a statement that it was a, quote, "power grab by a political opportunist." They said that the New York AG was making a political move and that it was a, quote, "baseless, premeditated attack" on their organization. They also filed a countersuit right after this initial move was announced by the New York AG. They said that they had been targeted and that they were being censored. They say that the attorney general is trying to suppress what they believe and what they stand for.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, is this likely to have political implications in an election year, given that the NRA spent millions of dollars to support Trump in 2016?

MAK: You're right. I mean, the NRA spent tens of millions of dollars to support the Trump campaign in 2016. It's arguably one of the most important factors in his ultimate victory. The NRA was already in significant financial trouble even before this legal trouble - right? - that they had had years of investigations and congressional probes into their conduct. They had whistleblower complaints raising the issues of financial misconduct. And all these legal costs have added up. In April, NPR broke the news of a secret tape on which LaPierre acknowledged the organization had lost a hundred million dollars over the past two years due to the ongoing scandals.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Tim Mak, thanks very much.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.