Going after the NRA is political. Going after Lapierre & Co. is not.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has announced plans to dissolve the 148-year-old National Rifle Association – charging that a number of top executives had defrauded the members. The most notable person in the crosshairs of the Big Apple’s top prosecutor is NRA Executive Vice President Wayne Lapierre. Carolyn Meadows is the president of the organization, but that job is more or less ceremonial. Lapierre runs the show. Meadows took over the presidency from former Reagan White House staffer and conservative talk show host Oliver North in 2019.
It would be hard to find an organization more reviled by the political left – and virtually every major Democrat office holder. They believe that the power of the pro-Second Amendment organization comes from its campaign contributions. That is one of the left’s evergreen falsehoods. Like virtually every other lobbying organization, they donate to legislators and candidates who already support their pro-gun position. The real power of the NRA comes from its huge voting membership – more than 5 million. Add to that a lot of family members and like-minded non-members and you have one hell of a voting population. That – not the money – is the source of the NRA’s political clout.
The NRA is more than a political lobbying organization. It is a leading advocate of gun safety – spending millions of dollars each year on responsible gun ownership education programs. It also provides a lot of educational, product and historic information to its many members. It is especially focused on educating younger first-time gun owners on the importance of safety and responsibility.
Many years ago, I was a member of the NRA. I let my membership lapse – along with my Illinois gun-owners license — when I no longer owned firearms. I was never into hunting – and can count on my fingers the number of times I have shot for fun at an indoor or skeet range. But I did enjoy the fun – including with my kids. I guess it is the same sort of occasional entertainment that drives folks to the shooting gallery at a carnival.
As a conservative, I have generally been appreciative of the existence and activities of the NRA. You do not have to be a hunter, gun hobbyist or a collector to support the Second Amendment. Consequently, I have followed the NRA for many years – and that means that I am not surprised by the charges brought by the New York Attorney General. In fact, I have been expecting them.
What makes them political is the Democrat Attorney General’s effort to disband the NRA – and the decision to bring the charges in the homestretch of a presidential election. Those facts seem to serve no purpose – or have any other explanation — than to try to politically shutdown and defame a powerful group that supports mostly Republican candidates and Republican values as a means of influencing the election. The allegations against Lapierre and others is a whole ‘nuther issue, however.
To understand the background on the charges announced by James, you need to go back to May of 2019. North was winding up his first year as president of the NRA – and was up for re-election. However, LaPierre led the board to oust North – saying that North was attempting to humiliate him (LaPierre) by raising the “appearances of impropriety that hurt … members and the Second Amendment.”
North countered that he was forced out after uncovering financial improprieties by Lapierre and other senior executives. It was far more than “appearances” of impropriety. North had called for the formation of a “crisis committee” to investigate what he saw as serious financial irregularities involving the misuse of millions of dollars of membership money.
Following his ouster, North filed a lawsuit claiming that LaPierre and the NRA leadership was out to smear him. In his court filing, North specifically cited his concerns over “misspending” – concerns he had been raising internally for several months. North specifically wanted an independent outside auditor to examine the books. That is what got him ousted.
North added that his efforts were thwarted by both LaPierre and NRA General Counsel William Brewer, who – according to North – was receiving unjustified multimillion-dollar monthly payments.
In response, Brewer accused North of attempted extortion, saying, “The NRA will not look the other way when it appears that crimes against the (NRA) have been committed by people motivated by their own self-interests.”
That is when the New York Attorney General entered the case. Shortly after the disclosures by North, she launched a formal investigation. That is the 18-month investigation that came to a head recently. Why the New York Attorney General? Though headquartered in Virginia, the NRA is chartered in New York.
So, what is the Attorney General charging?
In exiting the NRA, North had accused LaPierre of running the organization like a dictator. The New York Attorney General seems to concur. The indictment accuses LaPierre of using “nefarious means” to “intimidate, punish, and expel anyone at a senior level who raised concerns about his conduct.”
LaPierre is specifically accused of diverting millions of dollars into personal accounts – and using millions more to cover personal expenses, including more than $3.6 million on luxury cars. The AG accused LaPierre of using his power to secure a salary-for-life deal worth more than $17 million. He also used NRA money to provide no-bid contracts to friends and family – and no-work contracts to buy silence from others.
Also included in the indictment is former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Woody Phillips, former Executive Director Joshua Powell, and Corporate Secretary John Frazer for lack of fiduciary responsibility in failing to properly oversee the NRA’s funds – specifically charging that they “regularly ignored, overrode or otherwise violated the bylaws and internal policies and procedures that they were charged with enforcing.”
Before leaving the NRA, Phillips is accused of arranging a $1.8 million monthly golden parachute consulting contract and fed another $1 million into an account set up for his Girlfriend. He also arranged a concealed deal by which his wife would receive a $30,000 per month consulting contract. (Looks like the girlfriend got the better deal … eh?)
He is also accused of setting up an arrangement by which millions of dollars in entertainment and travel expenses were fraudulently billed to the NRA through Ackerman McQueen — the NRA’s public relations firm.
For anyone following the NRA, none of this comes as a surprise. Rumors of financial misconduct — and Lapierre’s authoritarian control of the organization.
If the charges are established in a court-of-law, LaPierre and the others deserve whatever they get. However, there is no reason to shut down the NRA. It serves an important roll and should be continued on new management – which could mean the replacement of the entire Board of Directors – even those not directly accused of fraudulent activities. They were either complicit by lack of action or abysmally ignorant of their obligation to be informed. Either way, they should go.
The NRA needs re-organization – not liquidation. Those named in the indictments should resign immediately – or be fired by the Board. This is a reform that is long overdue.
So, there ‘tis.
By Larry Horist